The Origin and Mythology of the Olive Tree
The olive tree has been revered for millenia across all social and religious backgrounds. The question is, why?
The Roman writer Lucius Collumella, in his agricultural treatise De Re Rustica called it the 'first of all trees'.
A rich mythology surrounds the tree, across all cultural, religious and economic boundaries.
An olive branch in the beak of a dove marked the end of the biblical flood, and ever since has been the symbol of peace.
It gets a commendable write-up in Jotham's parable in the Book of Judges: "But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?” Judges 9:9
By the time Collumella was writing about it, the olive had been in commercial cultivation for several thousand years. Archaeologists have excavated olive pits at sites that are 8,000 years old. The first evidence of olive oil production was found at a 6,000-year-old site at Carmel in Israel.
Illustrations of olive oil production appear in ancient Egyptian art. Tools for pressing oil appear in collections of Egyptian grave goods.
Tutankhamun wore a crown woven with olive leaves, and Ramses III presented olive branches to Ra, the sun god, as a symbol of enlightenment.
The olive reached the peak of its mythological fame in classical Greece. Athena won the right to become patron of Atikka in return for the gift of an olive tree and the assurance it would make the city prosperous and famous.
Athena’s tree was reputedly planted in the Acropolis but was burnt to the ground during the Persian invasion of 480BC. The blackened tree was abandoned to the smouldering ruins but began to produce new shoots, from which, legend has it, every olive in Greece was propagated.
Such a high value was placed on olive trees that the Constitution of Athens was amended during the time of Solon (638BC-558BC) to protect their olive trees. Damaging the olive tree meant the death penalty.
Solon’s law would have been aimed at maintaining the economic advantages of a vibrant olive oil industry. By the time of the Romans, olive oil production was codified and classified into 10 different grades.
..Olives became global plants from the mid-1600s, firstly as introductions to Latin America, then from the late 18th century to California, China and Japan.
Even in Britain there are many olive trees. The largest is at Chelsea Physic Garden in London. That's an interesting place!
In 1673, the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries chose their Chelsea village site for its proximity to the river and its warm air currents. They set out to grow medicinal plants, collected from all over the world, and new plants were introduced to Britain via the Garden.
Its international reputation was established with their global seed exchange scheme, the Index Seminum, which it began in the 1700s.
So apparently, the Worshipful Apothecaries regarded the olive tree as a medicinal plant.
No one knows how long after the garden's 1673 opening the current olive tree was planted.
The oldest olive tree in the world is Olive Tree of Vouves in Crete. (Greece). It is 2,000 – 3,000 years old. Some say it's more than 3,000 years old. This olive tree still produces olives, and is visited by more than 20,000 people every year.
You can buy old olive trees from specialist advanced tree nurseries. In Europe, it's possible to buy 500 year old olive trees. A naturally shallow root system makes them easy to mechanically lift and transport.
And in skincare, olive oil will still unlock your skin's glowing potential.
If you know how to unlock its secrets, and get all the benefits and none of the oiliness.