History and Tradition

Origins

The true origins of the olive tree are lost in time though archaeologists believe that there were trees growing in the Mediterranean area as long as 60,000 years ago. Even though wild olives must have been gathered in the past, no one has been able to agree on when and where the first trees were farmed. However, the oldest equipment for storing olive oil is dated back to 3,500BC and was found in Crete. The remnants of ampoules found on the island have led to the claim that it is the place where the first trees were actually cultivated.

Olive oil tradition

Every child hearing the story of Noah and the Ark for the first time will remember the Dove carrying the olive branch as a message of peace. Olive trees are intricately linked with the history of civilisations. Even in places where the olive tree does not grow, the fruit of olive trees has great significance.

Essential trees

Olive trees were not just prized for the nutritional value of their fruit. The oil was also used as fuel for lighting and the wood as firewood, as furniture material and for construction purposes. Crushed olives (after the oil pressing) were most likely fed to the domestic livestock and the oil was often used as an ointment or body rub (olive oil is still used in soap making). 

Iconic status

The preciousness of the olive tree has made it a natural icon. The ancient civilisations made offerings of olives to the Gods, and the trees' beauty and meaning has been frequently symbolised in art, jewellery, literature and sport. Athletes competing in the Olymic Games were always presented with a wreath of olive twigs; they also used the oil as a lotion on their bodies. A charming aspect of the 2004 Athens Olympics was the sight of the winning athletes once again being crowned with an olive wreath as they received their medals.

Ceremony

The religious tradition of respect towards nature has led many different religious factions to worship the olive tree and its fruit. Olive oil is used in burial ceremonies, baptisms, harvest festivals. Sailors sprinkle it on stormy seas, believing it will bring calmness. Even today in Greece, a newborn baby is presented with the gift of a new olive tree.

Healing properties

Olive oil has always played a vital role in medicine. The early Christians believed it could heal wounds; it has been used to cure fever, treat poisoning, whiten teeth, heal skin diseases including leprosy - and even as an aphrodisiac. In Britain, before olive oil became a common cooking ingredient after 1960, many people associated olive oil as a cure for earache while british cooks who wished to prepare a recipe in the 1950’s using olive oil had to buy it from a chemist, not a grocery store!

Economic importance

Olive oil migrated with the help of the great seafaring nations. The Phonecians travelled with great ampoules of oil, perhaps even to Britain. The Romans, convinced of the health properties in olive oil, took the trouble to make sure it was widely distributed throughout its Empire. Since then the production of olive oil has never failed to be an essential factor in the economies of the main producing countries.