History of olive trees

History of olive trees

Olive trees, ‘Olea europaea’, are the oldest fruit trees and are certainly one of the most important fruit trees in history. The culture of olive trees is closely related to the rise and fall of Mediterranean empires and other advanced civilizations over the centuries. As olive trees offered wealth and future food supplies to established civilizations, agricultural nations developed into stable societies arising from the secure expectation of past experience of a continuous supply of food and olive oil. This factor was a necessary requirement for growth and population increase. Reliable production of fruit and olive oil means that olive trees must exist in a stable society and peaceful environment. This stability must last for many years, as most ancient seedling olive trees took eight years or more before they ever produced their first crop of fruit.

Prolific orchards of olive trees meant that the foundation of the great empires of Greece and Rome arose and developed into complex economic and political powers. It is interesting to note that the historical decline of these empires coincided with the destruction of their olive groves, which reduced the available supply of olives, olive oil, olive wood and olive soap. In connection with the destruction of olive groves, it is interesting to note that in Israel’s wars with Palestine, 50,000 olive trees were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. This act of agricultural destruction led to considerable anger and unrest in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as the economic livelihood of many Palestinian farmers depended on their produce from the uprooted olive trees. Furthermore, the olive tree is a historical symbol of “peace and goodwill” and when olive trees were leveled near the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and the “Cradle of Biblical History”, this removal of the olive trees appeared to be a deliberate provocation to end the ” peace’ with Palestinian settlers and farmers.

The healing properties of olive oil were reported by many ancient Greek writers and philosophers, their importance in creating nutritional benefits and wealth for Greek citizens continues in abundance today – some Greek olive groves contain a million or more trees. Aristotle wrote in detail about the methods adopted for the successful cultivation of olive trees.

Greek mythology records that Athena, the goddess of wisdom and peace, stuck her magic spear into the earth and it turned into an olive tree, so the place where the olive tree appeared and grew was named Athens, Greece, in honor of the Goddess, Athens. Local legend tells us that the original olive tree still grows after many centuries on the ancient holy site. Citizens still claim that all Greek olive trees originate from rooted cuttings that were grown from this original olive tree. Homer claimed in his writings that the ancient olive tree growing in Athens was already 10,000 years old. Homer claims that Greek courts sentenced people to death if they destroyed an olive tree. In 775 BC Olympia, Greece, on the site of the ancient Olympic Stadium, athletes competed and trained, and the winners were triumphantly cheered and crowned with a wreath made of olive branches. Ancient gold coins minted in Athens depict the face of the goddess Athena wearing a wreath of olive leaves on her helmet and holding a clay pot of olive oil. The Greeks began to grow olives in 700 BC.

The sacred lamp used in ancient Greek culture to illuminate dark rooms at night was fueled by olive oil. Aged olive oil was also used in sacred rituals to anoint the church at weddings and baptisms. Herodotus wrote in 500 BC that the cultivation and export of olives and olive oil were so sacred that only virgins and eunuchs were allowed to cultivate olive orchards. The first documented plantings of olive trees may have occurred during the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete and are believed to have been growing around 3500 BC. This civilization predates the discovery of olive fossils at Mycenae from 1600 BC. and later in the Greek Empire. Sturt Manning, an archaeologist at Cornell University, reported in Live Science Magazine (April 28, 2005) that the most devastating volcano in 10,000 years occurred on the Greek island of Thera, after which the town of Akrotiri was completely buried by falling ash. The discovery of fossilized olive trees and olive seeds buried near the site indicates through carbon dating that the volcanic eruption occurred between 1660 and 1600 BC and may have contributed to the total destruction of the advanced Minoan civilization ( Atlantis) on the island of Crete and may have led to the formation of the Sahara desert in North Africa after the evaporation of the native forests there.

The fragrant flowers of the olive trees are small and creamy white, hidden in the thick leaves. Some cultivars self-pollinate, but others do not. Flowers usually begin to appear in April and can last for many months. A wild planted olive tree usually begins to flower and bear fruit at the age of 8 years. The fruit of the olive tree is purple-black when fully ripe, but a few varieties are green when ripe, and some olives turn copper-brown. The size of the olive fruit is variable, even on the same tree, and the shape varies from round to oval with pointed ends. Some olives can be eaten fresh after drying in the sun and taste sweet, but most varieties of olives are bitter and must be treated with various chemical solutions before they become edible olives. If the olives are thinned along the branches of the trees to 2 or 3 per branch, the final size of the olives will be much larger. The fruits are harvested in mid-October and must be processed as soon as possible to prevent fermentation and deterioration.

The leaves of olive trees are grey-green and are replaced at 2-3 year intervals in the spring after new growth appears. Annual and severe pruning is very important to ensure continuous production. Unproductive branches are removed from the trees, “that it may be more fruitful” John 15:2. An olive tree can grow up to 50 feet with spreading limbs of 30 feet, but most growers will keep the tree trimmed to 20 feet to ensure maximum production. New sprouts and trees will grow from the roots of the olive tree stump, even if the trees are cut down. Some olive trees are believed to be over a thousand years old and most will live to a ripe old age of 500 years.

Olives are usually plucked from the trees with poles, picked mechanically or by shaking the fruit from the trees onto a canvas. Most ripening olives are removed from the trees after most of the fruit has begun to change color. It is important to press the olive oil within a day of harvesting, otherwise fermentation or deterioration of taste and quality will occur. Olive oil can be consumed or used for cooking immediately after it is taken from the press. Olive oils are unique and different, with each brand of olive oil having its own character determined by many factors, such as those unique flavor differences found in fine wines. Prepared commercial olive oils can vary greatly in aroma, fruity taste; whether the taste is floral, nutty, delicate or mild, and the coloring of the olive oil is quite variable.

Olive oil produces many health benefits when used in cooking or when poured over salads. The use of olive oil can improve digestion and favor cardiac metabolism through its low cholesterol content. Experts claim that consuming olive oil will make one grow shiny hair, prevent dandruff, prevent wrinkles, prevent dry skin and acne, strengthen nails, stop muscle pain, lower blood pressure, and reverse the effects of alcohol.

Olive trees can survive drought and high winds and grow well in well-drained soils up to pH 8.5 and the trees can tolerate salt water conditions. In Europe, olive trees are usually fertilized every other year with organic fertilizer. Alternate budding can be avoided by heavy pruning, and trees generally respond to this very quickly and favorably.

Olive trees should be purchased that have been vegetatively propagated or grafted, as seed-grown trees will revert to a wild type that produces small, tasteless olives. Olive trees are more resistant to disease and insects than any other fruit tree and are therefore sprayed less than any other crop.

Although commercial olive production in the United States is only 2% of the world market, great interest in olive cultivation throughout the South has been stimulated by the recent introduction of promising cold-hardy olive trees by European hybridizers. Many European immigrants to the United States grow their own olive trees in large pots that can be moved in and out of the house during seasonal changes.

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