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An ode to the olive(tree)

In our previous blog post about the umbrella pines, we imagined ourselves in the streets of Rome for a while. We enjoyed that all too well, so we're going to stay in the Mediterranean atmosphere for a while this week. We'll tell you everything you want to know about the tree behind our favorite snack on the serving board: the olive tree.

The olive tree (Olea europaea) is a tree of the olive family (Oleaceae). The genus Olea has about 20 species of trees and originates from Asia Minor. About 600 BC the tree spread from the Middle East to other Mediterranean countries. Nowadays, the olive tree now has a large distribution area [1]. You can encounter it in all subtropical and tropical regions of the world. They can become very old; there are olive trees of over 2000 years! Besides the fact that the olive tree - with its silver-green leaves and beautiful thick trunk - is a feast for the eyes, it is also of great economic (and culinary) importance.

From oil to olive oil

Today the word 'oil' reminds us more of petroleum than of olive oil. Yet this word is originally derived from olive oil (oleum) [2]. Olive oil has been extracted for a lot longer than petroleum and has a rich history. Multiple excavations indicate that olives and olive oil have been used since prehistoric times and that modern humans have been cultivating the olive tree for 6000 years [3]. About 3500 years ago, Crete acted as the main trading center for olive oil. The people there quickly became rich and prosperous by making and exporting all kinds of olive oil products [3]. There was a lively trade in cosmetics and lotions, which still exists today.

Take care of your body

In Roman times, olive oil was used to keep the skin young, cleanse the body, and keep your teeth white. Today it is added to many beauty products for a soothing effect. Olive oil contains important vitamins and unsaturated fatty acids. This is one of the reasons why olive oil is also used medicinally. For example, olive oil reduces gastric secretion, and is therefore very suitable for people with stomach problems. Olive oil also has a laxative effect and is good for stomach ulcers. Olive oil can also be applied externally to wounds to speed up the healing process. In addition, eating olive oil reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease [4].

Green or black?

In addition to the oil from the olive tree, we also eat the unpressed fruit. Nowadays, the olive is an indispensable part of our salads, warm dishes, snack selection and martinis (shaken not stirred of course). In the Netherlands we can find both green and black olives in the supermarket, but what is the difference? Do they come from different trees, like blue and red berries? No, both olives come from the Olea europaea. The difference lies in the picking period. Green olives are not ripe yet, so they are picked earlier (around September/October). The black olive is the ripe fruit, which is picked about 3 to 4 months later [5]. By the way, olives are never truly black, but vary in color between deep brown and purple.

A real powerhouse

The economic and gastronomic value of the olive tree is almost unsurpassed. It's a tree we all love! In addition - or partly because of this - the olive tree is also of great symbolic value. It is a special tree, which has been seen since Greek antiquity as a sign of prosperity, strength, peace, and solidarity. Olive oil was used to keep Olympic flames burning and the winners were crowned with olive branches. Nowadays the olive tree is often given as a present at a union, such as a marriage. By giving an olive tree to someone, you wish someone a lasting bond and a positive vision of the future. Also ideal as a gift to a business relation.

There are no fruits on our own mini olive tree yet, although sometimes there are exceptions. Our trees have not been sown but have been cut from strong cultivars from Spain. As a result, they retain the characteristics of the mother plant and can flower from the second year. With good care, it will eventually reward you with real olives. Delicious with the pesto you made with the pine nuts from the Parasols Pines!


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