Mediterranean Gold: Olive Oil and the Olive
Photo: Flickr, Sew wot!
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The olive tree is a regenerative and wild food staple that is a source of Mediterranean fertility, strength, and power. It produces an oil hailed as a golden liquid by Homer; it is the symbol of Athena.
The olive tree’s gnarly branches always grow back when broken. Olives thrive in coastal, subtropical climate zones where it’s cold for a period that lets them go into semi-dormancy. Referenced often in the Bible and in the Quran, the oil is a valuable commodity that has been transported all over Greece, Italy, and Arabia. It has multitudinous functions, including cosmetics, fuel for lamps, and cooking. The fruit, seed and leaves can be used for medicines or even for wreaths of victory for the Panathenaic Olympic champions.
Extra virgin olive oil is the richest, fruitiest, least-processed and least acidic of the types. It retains most of its antioxidants, vitamin E, K and phenols, monounsaturated omega-9 healing fats. Thirty types of olive oil, each with a unique flavor and background are sold all around the world today. Incidences of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and digestive problems are lower in Mediterranean regions thanks to more fish, legumes and olive oil fats in the diet. Unlike saturated fats, anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats from fish and olive oil counteract bile production and do not generate free radicals that cause cancer and high cholesterol. The national snack of Palestinians, Lebanese and Jordanians, pita bread dipped into “zait & zaatar” (olive oil plus dried oregano or thyme with sesame seeds). It is an extraordinary delicacy for my mother’s family. My great-grandmother lived to 105, her daughter until 95, and hers until 91. I credit the olive fruit.
Olive oil’s oleic acid prevents colon and breast cancer, too. Oleocanthal compounds present in olive oil might ward off Alzheimer’s disease, says The Independent. It is also used as a laxative for children in Spain, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, who often end up with intestinal worms and gall or kidney stones after eating meat. Anti-inflammatory olive oil aids digestion, soothes muscles, and counteracts bile production caused by saturated fat consumption.
A couple drops of pure olive oil can hydrate lips, nails, skin and hair. When infused with flowers or herbs like rose, lilac, sage or mint, it makes the finest soaps, moisturizers, lipsticks and body ointments. Cleopatra bathed in it three times a day because it is an aphrodisiac that promotes better skin, complexion, and eternal youth.