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|Olea europaea, Dead Sea, Jordan|
The olive (i// or i//, Olea europaea, meaning "Oil from/of Europe") is a species of small tree in the family Oleaceae, native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin as well as northern Iraq, and northern Iran at the south of the Caspian Sea.
Its fruit, also called the olive, is of major agricultural importance in the Mediterranean region as the source of olive oil. The tree and its fruit give its name to the plant family, which also includes species such as lilacs, jasmine, Forsythia and the true ash trees (Fraxinus). The word derives from Latin olīva which is cognate with the Greek ἐλαία (elaía) ultimately from Mycenaean Greek 𐀁𐀨𐀷 e-ra-wa ("elaiwa"), attested in Linear B syllabic script. The word "oil" in multiple languages ultimately derives from the name of this tree and its fruit.
The olive tree, Olea europaea, is an evergreen tree or shrub native to the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa. It is short and squat, and rarely exceeds 8–15 metres (26–49 ft) in height. However, the Pisciottana, a unique variety comprising 40,000 trees found only in the area around Pisciotta in the Campania region of southern Italy often exceeds 8–15 metres (26–49 ft) with correspondingly large trunk diameters. The silvery green leaves are oblong, measuring 4–10 centimetres (1.6–3.9 in) long and 1–3 centimetres (0.39–1.2 in) wide. The trunk is typically gnarled and twisted.
The fruit is a small drupe 1–2.5 centimetres (0.39–0.98 in) long, thinner-fleshed and smaller in wild plants than in orchard cultivars. Olives are harvested in the green to purple stage. Canned black olives may contain chemicals (usually ferrous sulfate) that turn them black artificially.
Olea europaea contains a seed commonly referred to in American English as a pit or a rock, and in British English as a stone.
The place, time and immediate ancestry of the cultivated olive are unknown. It is assumed[by whom?] that Olea europaea may have arisen from O. chrysophylla in northern tropical Africa and that it was introduced into the countries of the Mediterranean Basin via Egypt and then Crete or the Levant, Syria and Asia Minor. Fossil Olea pollen has been found in Macedonia, Greece, and other places around the Mediterranean, indicating that this genus is an original element of the Mediterranean flora. Fossilized leaves of Olea were found in the palaeosols of the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera) and were dated about 37,000 Before Present (BP). Imprints of larvae of olive whitefly Aleurolobus (Aleurodes) olivinus were found on the leaves. The same insect is commonly found today on olive leaves, showing that the plant-animal co-evolutionary relations have not changed since that time.
The olive is one of the plants most often cited in western literature. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus crawls beneath two shoots of olive that grow from a single stock, and in the Iliad, (XVII.53ff) is a metaphoric description of a lone olive tree in the mountains, by a spring; the Greeks observed that the olive rarely thrives at a distance from the sea, which in Greece invariably means up mountain slopes. Greek myth attributed to the primordial culture-hero Aristaeus the understanding of olive husbandry, along with cheese-making and bee-keeping. Olive was one of the woods used to fashion the most primitive Greek cult figures, called xoana, referring to their wooden material; they were reverently preserved for centuries. It was purely a matter of local pride that the Athenians claimed that the olive grew first in Athens. In an archaic Athenian foundation myth, Athena won the patronship of Attica from Poseidon with the gift of the olive. Though, according to the 4th-century BC father of botany, Theophrastus, olive trees ordinarily attained an age of about 200 years, he mentions that the very olive tree of Athena still grew on the Acropolis; it was still to be seen there in the 2nd century AD; and when Pausanias was shown it, ca 170 AD, he reported "Legend also says that when the Persians fired Athens the olive was burnt down, but on the very day it was burnt it grew again to the height of two cubits." Indeed, olive suckers sprout readily from the stump, and the great age of some existing olive trees shows that it was perfectly possible that the olive tree of the Acropolis dated to the Bronze Age. The olive was sacred to Athena and appeared on the Athenian coinage.
According to Pliny the Elder a vine, a fig and an olive tree grew in the middle of the Roman Forum, the latter was planted to provide shade (the garden plot was recreated in the 20th century). The Roman poet Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "As for me, olives, endives, and smooth mallows provide sustenance." Lord Monboddo comments on the olive in 1779 as one of the foods preferred by the ancients and as one of the most perfect foods.
The leafy branches of the olive tree – the olive branch as a symbol of abundance, glory and peace – were used to crown the victors of friendly games and bloody wars. As emblems of benediction and purification, they were also ritually offered to deities and powerful figures; some were even found in Tutankhamen's tomb.
Olive oil has long been considered sacred; it was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the "eternal flame" of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves. Today, it is still used in many religious ceremonies. Over the years, the olive has been the symbol of peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power and purity.
The olive was one of the main elements in ancient Israelite cuisine. Olive oil was used for not only food and cooking, but also lighting, sacrificial offerings, ointment, and anointment for priestly or royal office.
The olive tree and olives are mentioned over 30 times in the Bible, in both the New and Old Testaments. It is one of the first plants mentioned in the Bible, and one of the most significant. For example, it was an olive leaf that a dove brought back to Noah to demonstrate that the flood was over. The olive is listed in the Hebrew Bible (Deut 8:8) as one of the seven species that are noteworthy products of the Land of Israel.
The Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem is mentioned several times. The Allegory of the Olive Tree in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (which reappears in greatly expanded form in the Book of Jacob in the Book of Mormon) refers to the scattering and gathering of Israel. It compares the Israelites and gentiles to tame and wild olive trees. The olive tree itself, as well as olive oil and olives, play an important role in the Bible.
The olive tree and olive oil are mentioned seven times in the Quran, and the olive is praised as a precious fruit. Most notably, it is mentioned in one of the most famous verses of the Quran, Ayat an-Nur: "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His Light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon Light. Allah guides to His Light whoever He wills and Allah makes metaphors for mankind and Allah has knowledge of all things." (Quran, 24:35). Olive tree and olive-oil health benefits have been propounded in Prophetic medicine. The Prophet Mohamed is reported to have said: "Take oil of olive and massage with it – it is a blessed tree" (Sunan al-Darimi, 69:103).
The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean region and Western Asia, and spread to nearby countries from there. It is estimated the cultivation of olive trees began more than 7000 years ago. As far back as 3000 BC, olives were grown commercially in Crete; they may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan civilization. The ancient Greeks used to smear olive oil on their bodies and hair as a matter of grooming and good health.
Theophrastus, in On the Nature of Plants, does not give as systematic and detailed an account of olive husbandry as he does of the vine, but he makes clear (in 1.16.10) that the cultivated olive must be vegetatively propagated; indeed, the pits give rise to thorny, wild-type olives, spread far and wide by birds. Theophrastus reports how the bearing olive can be grafted on the wild olive, for which the Greeks had a separate name, kotinos.
The thickness of the wall should, in my opinion, be such that armed men meeting on top of it may pass one another without interference. In the thickness there should be set a very close succession of ties made of charred olive wood, binding the two faces of the wall together like pins, to give it lasting endurance. For that is a material which neither decay, nor the weather, nor time can harm, but even though buried in the earth or set in the water it keeps sound and useful forever. And so not only city walls but substructures in general and all walls that require a thickness like that of a city wall, will be long in falling to decay if tied in this manner.
The Spanish colonists brought the olive to the New World where its cultivation prospered in present-day Peru and Chile. The first precious seedlings from Spain were planted in Lima by Antonio de Rivera in 1560. Olive tree cultivation quickly spread along the valleys of South America's dry Pacific coast where the climate was similar to the Mediterranean. The Spanish missionaries established the tree in the 18th century in California. It was first cultivated at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 or later around 1795. Orchards were started at other missions but in 1838 an inspection found only two olive orchard in California. Oil tree cultivation gradually became a highly successful commercial venture from the 1860s onwards. In Japan the first successful planting of olive trees happened in 1908 on Shodo Island which became the cradle of olive cultivation. It is estimated that there are about 865 million olive trees in the world today (as of 2005), and the vast majority of these are found in Mediterranean countries, although traditionally marginal areas account for no more than 25% of olive planted area and 10% of oil production.
The olive tree, Olea europaea, is very hardy: drought-, disease- and fire-resistant, it can live to a great age. Its root system is robust and capable of regenerating the tree even if the above-ground structure is destroyed. The older the olive tree, the broader and more gnarled the trunk becomes. Many olive trees in the groves around the Mediterranean are said to be hundreds of years old, while an age of 2,000 years is claimed for a number of individual trees; in some cases, this has been scientifically verified.
Pliny the Elder told about a sacred Greek olive tree that was 1,600 years old. An olive tree in west Athens, named "Plato's Olive Tree", was said[by whom?] to be a remnant of the grove within which Plato's Academy was situated, which would make it approximately 2,400 years old. The tree comprised a cavernous trunk from which a few branches were still sprouting in 1975, when a traffic accident caused a bus to fall on and uproot it. Since then, the trunk has been preserved and displayed in the nearby Agricultural University of Athens. A supposedly older tree, the "Peisistratos Tree", is located by the banks of the Cephisus River, in the municipality of Agioi Anargyroi, and is said to be a remnant of an olive grove that was planted by Athenian tyrant Peisistratos in the 6th century BC. Numerous ancient olive trees also exist near Pelion in Greece. The age of an olive tree in Crete, the Finix Olive is claimed to be over 2,000 years old, this estimate is based on archaeological evidence around the tree.
An olive tree on the island of Brijuni (Brioni), Istria in Croatia, has been calculated to be about 1,600 years old. It still gives fruit (about 30 kg or 66 lb per year), which is made into top quality olive oil.
The town of Bshaale, Lebanon claims to have the oldest olive trees in the world (4000 BC for the oldest), but no scientific study supports these claims. Other trees in the towns of Amioun appear to be at least 1,500 years old.
There are dozens of ancient olive trees throughout Israel and Palestine whose age has earlier been estimated to be 1,600–2,000 years old; however, these estimates could not be supported by current scientific practices. Ancient trees include two giant olive trees in Arraba and five trees in Deir Hanna, both in the Galilee region, which have been determined to be over 3,000 years old, although there is no available data to support the credibility of the study that produced these age estimates and as such the 3000 years age estimate can not be considered valid. All seven trees continue to produce olives. Several trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (from the Hebrew words "gat shemanim" or olive press) in Jerusalem are claimed to date back to the time of Jesus.
Some Italian olive trees are believed to date back to Roman times, although identifying progenitor trees in ancient sources is difficult. A tree located in Santu Baltolu di Carana (municipality of Luras) in Sardinia, Italy, named with respect as the Ozzastru by the inhabitants of the region, is claimed to be 3,000 to 4,000 years old according to different studies. There are several other trees of about 1,000 years old within the same garden. The 15th-century trees of Olivo della Linza located in Alliste province of Lecce in Puglia were noted by Bishop Ludovico de Pennis during his pastoral visit to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nardò-Gallipoli in 1452.
The olive tree, Olea europaea, has been cultivated for olive oil, fine wood, olive leaf, and the olive fruit. The earliest evidence for the domestication of olives comes from the Chalcolithic Period archaeological site of Teleilat Ghassul in what is today modern Jordan.
Farmers in ancient times believed that olive trees would not grow well if planted more than a certain distance from the sea; Theophrastus gives 300 stadia (55.6 km or 34.5 mi) as the limit. Modern experience does not always confirm this, and, though showing a preference for the coast, they have long been grown further inland in some areas with suitable climates, particularly in the southwestern Mediterranean (Iberia, northwest Africa) where winters are mild.
Olives are now cultivated in many regions of the world with Mediterranean climates, such as South Africa, Chile, Peru, Australia, and California and in areas with temperate climates such as New Zealand, under irrigation in the Cuyo region in Argentina which has a desert climate. They are also grown in the Córdoba Province, Argentina, which has a temperate climate with rainy summers and dry winters (Cwa). The climate in Argentina changes the external characteristics of the plant but the fruit keeps its original features. The northernmost olive grove is placed in Anglesey, an island off the north west coast of Wales, in the United Kingdom: but it is too early to say if the growing will be successful, having been planted in 2006.
The subspecies maroccana and cerasiformis are respectively hexaploid and tetraploid.
There are thousands of cultivars of the Olea europaea olive tree. In Italy alone at least three hundred cultivars have been enumerated, but only a few are grown to a large extent. None of these can be accurately identified with ancient descriptions, though it is not unlikely that some of the narrow-leaved cultivars most esteemed may be descendants of the Licinian olive. The Iberian olives are usually cured and eaten, often after being pitted, stuffed (with pickled pimento, anchovies, or other fillings) and packed in brine in jars or tins. Some also pickle olives at home.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||609 kJ (146 kcal)|
|- Sugars||0.54 g|
|- Dietary fiber||3.3 g|
|- saturated||2.029 g|
|- monounsaturated||11.314 g|
|- polyunsaturated||1.307 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||20 μg (3%)|
|- beta-carotene||231 μg (2%)|
|- lutein and zeaxanthin||510 μg|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.021 mg (2%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.007 mg (1%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||0.237 mg (2%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.031 mg (2%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||3 μg (1%)|
|Choline||14.2 mg (3%)|
|Vitamin E||3.81 mg (25%)|
|Vitamin K||1.4 μg (1%)|
|Calcium||52 mg (5%)|
|Iron||0.49 mg (4%)|
|Magnesium||11 mg (3%)|
|Phosphorus||4 mg (1%)|
|Potassium||42 mg (1%)|
|Sodium||1556 mg (104%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Since many cultivars are self-sterile or nearly so, they are generally planted in pairs with a single primary cultivar and a secondary cultivar selected for its ability to fertilize the primary one. In recent times, efforts have been directed at producing hybrid cultivars with qualities such as resistance to disease, quick growth and larger or more consistent crops.
Some particularly important cultivars of Olea europaea include:
Olive trees, Olea europaea, show a marked preference for calcareous soils, flourishing best on limestone slopes and crags, and coastal climate conditions. They grow in any light soil, even on clay if well drained, but in rich soils they are predisposed to disease and produce poorer oil than in poorer soil. (This was noted by Pliny the Elder.) Olives like hot weather, and temperatures below −10 °C (14 °F) may injure even a mature tree. They tolerate drought well, thanks to their sturdy and extensive root system. Olive trees can live for several millennia, and can remain productive for as long if they are pruned correctly and regularly.
Olives grow very slowly, and over many years the trunk can attain a considerable diameter. A. P. de Candolle recorded one exceeding 10 metres (33 ft) in girth. The trees rarely exceed 15 metres (49 ft) in height, and are generally confined to much more limited dimensions by frequent pruning. The yellow or light greenish-brown wood is often finely veined with a darker tint; being very hard and close-grained, it is valued by woodworkers. There are only a handlful of olive varieties that can be used to cross-pollinate. Pendolino olive trees are partially self-fertile, but pollenizers are needed for a large fruit crop. Other compatible olive tree pollenizers include Leccino and Maurino. Pendolino olive trees are used extensively as pollenizers in large olive tree groves.
Olives are propagated by various methods. The preferred ways are cuttings and layers; the tree roots easily in favourable soil and throws up suckers from the stump when cut down. However, yields from trees grown from suckers or seeds are poor; they must be budded or grafted onto other specimens to do well (Lewington and Parker, 114). Branches of various thickness cut into lengths of about 1 metre (3.3 ft) planted deeply in manured ground soon vegetate. Shorter pieces are sometimes laid horizontally in shallow trenches and, when covered with a few centimetres of soil, rapidly throw up sucker-like shoots. In Greece, grafting the cultivated tree on the wild tree is a common practice. In Italy, embryonic buds, which form small swellings on the stems, are carefully excised and planted under the soil surface, where they soon form a vigorous shoot.
Where the olive is carefully cultivated, as in Languedoc and Provence, the trees are regularly pruned. The pruning preserves the flower-bearing shoots of the preceding year, while keeping the tree low enough to allow the easy gathering of the fruit. The spaces between the trees are regularly fertilized. The crop from old trees is sometimes enormous, but they seldom bear well two years in succession, and in many cases a large harvest occurs every sixth or seventh season.
||This section needs attention from an expert in Plants. (August 2009)|
Olives are harvested in the autumn and winter. More specifically in the Northern hemisphere, green olives are picked at the end of September to about the middle of November. Blond olives are picked from the middle of October to the end of November and black olives are collected from the middle of November to the end of January or early February. In southern Europe, harvesting is done for several weeks in winter, but the time varies in each country, and with the season and the cultivar.
Most olives today are harvested by shaking the boughs or the whole tree. Using olives found lying on the ground can result in poor quality oil. Another method involves standing on a ladder and "milking" the olives into a sack tied around the harvester's waist. A third method uses a device called an oli-net that wraps around the tree trunk and opens to form an umbrella-like catcher from which workers collect the fruit. Another method uses an electric tool, the oliviera, that has large tongs that spin around quickly, removing fruit from the tree. Olives harvested by this method are used for oil.
Table olive varieties are more difficult to harvest, as workers must take care not to damage the fruit; baskets that hang around the worker's neck are used. In some places in Italy, Croatia and Greece, olives are harvested by hand because the terrain is too mountainous for machines. As a result, the fruit is not bruised, which leads to a superior finished product. The method also involves sawing off branches, which is healthy for future production.
||This section needs attention from an expert in Plants. (August 2009)|
Green olives are allowed to ferment before being packed in a brine solution. American black ("California") olives are not fermented, which is why they taste milder than green olives.
In addition to oleuropein, freshly picked olives are not palatable because of phenolic compounds. (One exception is the throubes olive, which can be eaten fresh.) Traditional cures use the natural microflora on the fruit to aid in fermentation, which leads to three important outcomes: the leaching out and breakdown of oleuropein and phenolic compounds; the creation of lactic acid, which is a natural preservative; and a complex of flavoursome fermentation products. The result is a product which will store with or without refrigeration.
Curing can employ lye, salt, brine, or fresh water. Salt cured olives (also known as dry cured) are packed in plain salt for at least a month, which produces a salty and wrinkled olive. Brine cured olives are kept in a salt water solution for a few days or more. Fresh water cured olives are soaked in a succession of baths, changed daily. Green olives are usually firmer than black olives.
Olives can also be flavoured by soaking in a marinade or pitted and stuffed. Popular flavourings include herbs, spices, olive oil, chili, lemon zest, lemon juice, wine, vinegar, and juniper berries; popular stuffings include feta cheese, blue cheese, pimento, garlic cloves, jalapenos, almonds, and anchovies. Sometimes, the olives are lightly cracked with a hammer or a stone to trigger fermentation. This method of curing adds a slightly bitter taste.
There are various pathologies that can affect olives. The most serious pest is the olive fruit fly dacus (Dacus olea) which lays its eggs in the olive most commonly just before it becomes ripe in the autumn. The region surrounding the puncture rots, becomes brown and takes a bitter taste making the olive unfit for eating or for oil. For controlling the pest the practice has been to spray with insecticides (organophosphates, e.g. dimethoate). Classic organic methods have now been applied such as trapping, applying the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis and spraying with kaolin. Such methods are obligatory for organic olives.
A fungus, Cycloconium oleaginum, can infect the trees for several successive seasons, causing great damage to plantations. A species of bacterium, Pseudomonas savastanoi pv. oleae, induces tumour growth in the shoots. Certain lepidopterous caterpillars feed on the leaves and flowers.
A pest which spreads through olive trees is the black scale bug, a small black scale insect that resembles a small black spot. They attach themselves firmly to olive trees and reduce the quality of the fruit; their main predators are wasps. The curculio beetle eats the edges of leaves, leaving sawtooth damage.
Rabbits eat the bark of olive trees and can do considerable damage, especially to young trees. If the bark is removed around the entire circumference of a tree it is likely to die.
At the northern edge of their cultivation zone, for instance in Southern France and north-central Italy, olive trees suffer occasionally from frost. Gales and long-continued rains during the gathering season also cause damage.
Olives are one of the most extensively cultivated fruit crops in the world. In 2011 there were about 9.6 million hectares planted with olive trees, which is more than twice the amount of land devoted to apples, bananas or mangoes. Only coconut trees and oil palms command more space. Cultivation area tripled from 2,600,000 to 7,950,000 hectares (6,400,000 to 19,600,000 acres) between 1960 and 1998 and reached a 10 million ha peak in 2008. The ten largest producing countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, are all located in the Mediterranean region and produce 95% of the world's olives.
Since its first domestication, Olea europaea has been spreading back to the wild from planted groves. Its original wild populations in southern Europe have been largely swamped by feral plants.
In some other parts of the world where it has been introduced, most notably South Australia, the olive has become a major woody weed that displaces native vegetation. In South Australia, its seeds are spread by the introduced red fox and by many bird species, including the European starling and the native emu, into woodlands, where they germinate and eventually form a dense canopy that prevents regeneration of native trees. As the climate of South Australia is very dry and bushfire prone, the oil rich feral olive tree substantially increases the fire hazard of native sclerophyll woodlands.
Cailletier cultivar, with an olive harvest net on the ground, Contes, France
Olive tree, Sithonia, Greece,
Olive fruits, Sardinia
Olive tree, Nepal
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