The olive tree is the plant most often sited in literature. Olive trees, and its leaves and fruit have often been used as a metaphor for peace and good health.
The olive tree is a small tree or squat shrub. Its trunk is typically gnarled and twisted. Olives are native to the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa. Olives are harvested in the fall and winter. When picked, they range in color from light green to dark purple. Black olives packed in cans owe their color to the ferrous sulfate they are packed with.
The number of varieties or cultivars of olives number in the thousands. Some are used only to make oil while other are served as ‘table olives” Olive and its oil is a nutritional gold mine. Inside its soft, velvety skin lies a library of phytochemicals.
Olive oil is the only oil obtained from the fruit of the plant rather than its seed. That distinction allows the oil to retain its original library of compounds, which accounts for the healthy effects of the oil. Oils that are derived from the seeds of the plant, require extensive refining while those of the fruit do not. Refining makes them non-toxic and safe but also removes the seed’s phytochemicals.
Olives synthesize compounds that are part of Nature’s arsenal of antioxidants. Some of these compounds protect the developing plant embryo from free radical attack. And since olives are high in tocopherols (vitamin E) and polyphenols, the oil produced, is protected from oxidation,