Olives have long been held in high esteem, apparently Moses exempted from military service the men responsible for cultivating olive trees and it was a dove bearing an olive branch that signaled the end of the great flood in the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
Prized for their fruit and oil, olives have been extensively cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and other hot dry climates in which the olive tree is particularly suited. Olives also have longevity on their side with a single tree often living for hundreds of years.
Olives are the fruit of the Olea Europaea tree. Green olives are picked before they are ripe, whereas black olives are picked later in the season at peak ripeness. If you’ve ever tasted a raw olive you’ll know they taste very different (peppery and bitter) before they are salted, pickled or soaked in brine, which mellows the flavour considerably. They are high in anti-oxidants (always a good thing) and healthy fats like oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid linked to reduced blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk. Olives also contain omega-3-rich alpha-linolenic acid.
The whole olive is pressed to extract the oil from the fruit. As with the fruit, the oil is similarly blessed with good fats and antioxidants. Like wine, varieties and growing conditions and processing methods will all affect the quality and taste of the oil produced. Only oil that is free of flavour defects and has lower levels of oleic acid (less than 0.8%) can be labelled as “extra virgin” and is considered the superior tasting and most valuable.
The leaves of the olive tree are highly astringent and are prised in herbal medicine as a immune boosting tonic. The leaves have remarkable properties as an antiviral, antibiotic, antifungal and antiparasitic.
The use of the flowers as an essence was popularised by Dr Edward Bach. The essence is used to treat mental and physical exhaustion after a period of sustained exertion. The person needing olive essence will feel like every day is a struggle and life has become a chore. Like the olive branch in the story of Noah’s Ark, olive flower essence can restore hope after an arduous and difficult period in your life.
Olives are proof that quite often, foods that are delicious are also good for us.