The olive tree is an essential part of Mediterranean culture. The Phoenicians and Romans spread it all over the Mediterranean coast. Olive oil is still the most popular edible fat in southern Europe, accompanying bread, salads, and many other tasteful meals.
According to the Spanish researcher Grande Covian, the consumption of olive oil instead of butter explains the lower frequency of heart attacks and thrombosis among Mediterranean people compared to those of central and northern Europe and North America.
Spain is ranked first in the production of olive oil, with 180 million olive trees spread from Andalusia to Catalonia. There are several kinds of olive oil:
- Virgin olive oil: Obtained from olives employing molturation (mashing), cold pressure, or decantation and filtering, or centrifugation. This oil does not undergo any chemical treatment.
- Pure olive oil: A mixture of virgin and refined olive oils, the latter undergoing a physical-chemical process to decrease its degree of acidity.
Virgin olive oil is more natural, and its taste is more robust, while “pure” olive oil or refined olive oil has a more neutral flavor. All oils, especially virgin oil, are superior to seed oils (sunflower, corn, etc.), considering their nutritional value, medicinal properties, and stability in frying.
Olive Tree Scientific Facts
- French: Olivier.
- Spanish: Olivo.
- Environment: Native to the Middle East, it grows wild and farmed in all Mediterranean countries; it was introduced to America in the 16th century.
- Description: Medium-built tree of the Oleaceae family. A gross, winding trunk, elliptical, straight-bordered, grey-green leaves, and tiny, whitish flowers. Its fruit is a berry, the well-known olive. The wild olive tree is smaller, with rounded leaves and smaller fruits than the farmed olive tree; however, they are equally juicy.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The leaves and the fruits.
Healing Properties and Indications
The leaves of the olive tree contain oleuropein, a glycoside; moreover, they contain tannins, sugars, and other substances. They are a febrifuge, and a hypotensive, constituting one of the most effective vegetal remedies against high blood pressure. Their use is also adequate in the case of arteriosclerosis.
Olives contain fats, proteins, mineral salts (especially calcium), enzymes, and vitamins A, B1, B2, and P. They are appetizing, digestive stimulating, and mild laxative. Olive oil contains a mixture of several lipids, chemically formed by the union of glycerine with the so-called fatty acids, the most important of which is the oleic acid, followed by linoleic, palmitic, and stearic acids, among others. It has the following properties:
- Emollient, exerts a soothing and anti-inflammatory effect on the skin and the mucous membrane. It heals burns, wounds, ulcers, and skin irritations. It is part of many ointments and lotions. When taken orally, it has an anti-inflammatory and protective effect on the stomach mucosal membrane. However, it is an excellent remedy in cases of acute gastritis, often caused by medicines such as aspirin, or alcoholic beverages, coffee, spices, or pickles.
- Mild laxatives: Furthermore, it eases the expulsion of intestinal parasites.
- Cholagogue, promotes gall bladder emptying, thus alleviating abdominal discomfort due to gall bladder dysfunctions. Moreover, the bile that flows in the intestine eases digestion. However, it must be carefully used in cholelithiasis (gall stones) because it may provoke gall bladder and liver colic.
- Effects on cholesterol: Olive oil does not strongly reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood as wheat germ, or corn oil does. However, continuous use can keep the level of cholesterol in the blood low. It has been proven that olive oil increases the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which transports a type of cholesterol, called HDL cholesterol, in the blood. This type of cholesterol prevents arteriosclerosis, unlike the cholesterol associated with low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or harmful cholesterol. This may explain the fact that the habitual consumption of olive oil as a dietary fat is directly related to a lower risk of heart attacks.
- Antitoxic, except in poisoning caused by phosphorus or its derivatives. The victim must drink a glass of oil mixed with warm water to induce vomiting. After vomiting, some spoonfuls of oil are given to the patient, acting as an antidote in the digestive system.
The Olive Oil and The Skin
In ancient times, when today’s wide variety of beauty products did not exist, olive oil was one of the most appreciated cosmetic products. In the ancient land of Israel, as in other Mediterranean cultures, the habit of anointing the head with olive oil to make the skin and hair more beautiful was widely spread.
All oils, especially olive oil, have a soothing and protective action on the skin that absorbs them. An excellent method to apply olive oil to the skin is:
- Make a lotion with olive oil and softly rub it on the whole body.
- Put on a gown and wait for 15-20 minutes.
- After this time, have a warm shower, using your usual soap. After towel drying, the skin is softer and firmer.
How to use the Olive Tree
- Decoction of 40-50g of leaves per liter, boiling until the water evaporates to a half. Drink three cups daily.
- Olives are taken as an appetizer, in salads, or during meals.
- Olive oil, when taken on an empty stomach, before meals, in an amount of one or two teaspoonfuls. It is preferable that it is virgin olive oil and, if possible, extracted by cold pressure or decantation.
- Olive oil is also applied as a lotion or cream (ointment).
- Enema: Mix warm water and olive oil, half and half. A decoction of high mallow or althea may be added.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 239,240,241. Print. [olive tree health benefits]