Despite the gloomy forecasts of the Spanish Agriculture Minister,that the olive harvest will be poor this year, the countryside of Andalucia is alive with the sound of olive picking. Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and some 75% is produced here in Andalucia. Although there is some mechanisation, most olives are still picked by hand, or the trees are beaten with sticks and the olives drop onto nets. It takes about 2,500-3000 olives to make a litre of oil ! Extra Virgin Oil is from the first pressing and is the highest grade and considered the best. The labelling of olive oil is as complicated and as jealously guarded as wine categories are.
The Olive is a native of the Mediterranean and an integral part of the healthy Mediterranean diet, the health benefits of which are well known. The ancient olive tree is now being studied for its many varied medicinal benefits. A liquid extract of olive leaves have shown it to have double the anti-oxidant capacity of Green Tea and quadruple that of Vitamin C! While other studies have found that olive waste can produce 2.5 times the energy generated by burning wood.
Olive – Olea europea- has been cultivated since pre-historic times, and is best known for providing oils and fruits for culinary purposes, as well as for use in lamps. Less familiar are the medicinal benefits, that include using the leaves and bark as well. As an herb olive is antiseptic, astringent and is known to lower blood pressure and fevers.
The oil is a laxative and an emollient and can be used to ease constipation and soothe peptic ulcers. Always seek medical advice when using any herb to treat a chronic condition. The Romans of course used olive oil to cleanse their skin as part of their bathing ritual. Mediterranean women with their glorious glossy hair have known for centuries the value of applying warm olive oil to revive dry lifeless hair - although this does require two washings and a good hair rinse with horsetail to remove all the oil, but the results are worth it.
The bark can be harvested as required and used fresh in an infusion, to relieve colic , however I warn you this is not for the faint hearted. Let’s just say the taste is an acquired one! Similarly the leaves can always be harvested and made into an infusion – simply put a small handful of leaves in a mug and pour boiling water over, and allow to infuse for 10mins – then drunk to help reduce high blood pressure. As it has a mildly irritating effect on the gut it is best drunk with a meal.
I for one will certainly view the olive as more than simply a bar snack or salad dressing!
Part of our olive harvest this year!