The Ingredient Series: Olive


According to legend, it was the Greek warrior goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus, who, by planting the first olive tree on a rocky hill in the city that took on her name, gifted the Greeks with the greatest gift of all.

The story of the bountiful Olea Europaea, commonly known as the olive, has been intertwined with the history of the Mediterranean since its origins. Considered a sacred tree in biblical times, the olive tree and its branches are a symbol of abundance, glory, endurance, unity, and peace. The eternal flame in the original Olympic games was fueled by olive oil and victors of the games were crowned with its leaves. It was also used as a sacrificial offering and for the anointing of generals, kings, and priests.

Beyond its symbolic importance, the olive has been a constant provider of nourishment, light, heat, medicine, perfume, and cosmetics. Its wood used to build homes and boats, its oil to fuel lamps and its fruit a celebrated staple ingredient throughout the various regional cuisines across the Mediterranean.

Is it any wonder then, that in the Greek laws of Solon, written in the 6th century BC, the cutting down of olive trees was punishable by death?

Landscape view of the countryside in Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain.

The olive tree was domesticated by man before we had written language and is said to have spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to Asia minor some 6,000 years ago. Evidence supports that olives were the source of the Minoan civilization’s wealth in Crete as early as 3,000BC. Along with the help of the Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman civilizations, it spread throughout the Mediterranean basin.

As one of the hardiest trees in existence, the olive tree survives by adapting itself to almost any climate, able to survive saltwater and to thrive in most soils. Some of the oldest living trees have been documented as reaching a ripe old age of 2,000 years. They even still give fruit.

Rich in fatty acids and antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, olive oil is commonly used in hair and skincare today to hydrate and cleanse, to moisturize, nourish, and repair. In fact, the ancient Greeks also enjoyed a beauty regimen that included a smearing of the oil from olives on their hair and skin.

Despite all the technological advances of mankind, the olive harvest is mostly done by hand and in some places, the same technique developed by the Romans for extracting the oil from the olives is practiced to this day.

Today, as much as ever, civilization has yet to outgrow its love for the beautifully-hued, multi-purposed, magical little fruit.

Find out more about beauty products that contain Olive Oil.

Cover Illustration by Lihi Jacob