September 12 - A Study of Olives

Olives are of great importance throughout the world. We have recently been surrounded by olive trees in Greece and Tuscany, where there are groves as far as you can see. These easily depicted trees, with their light green leaves and woody appearance, were widely used by the ancient Greeks. Olive trees are cultivated mainly for their fruits and oil, but are occasionally cultivated for their timber.

Olives are native to the Eastern Mediterranean region, but have now spread to regions with the same climate. Olive trees can live up to 800 years! The olives are usually harvested in December and January. They can either be picked unripe or ripe. Unripe olives are green and stay green after pickling. Ripe olives are bluish/black in color, and become solid black when pickled. Harvesters scrape the olives out of the trees with huge combs. Plastic mats are placed underneath the trees to collect the olives as they fall to the ground. The olives can then be pickled or pressed. The pickled olives sit in water for about a month. The water is changed daily. After a month, they can sit in vinegar or olive oil. Olives are about 20% oil, and can be pressed to produce oil. The oil can be used for cooking, canning, or just table oil. The timber from olive trees in southern Africa (black ironwood) is greatly valued in cabinetry.


Olives also had a great impact on the ancient Greeks. There are many ancient myths and legends concerning olives. It is said that the olive trees in Athens were the gift of the Greek goddess Athena, god of wisdom, war, and cities. Athena was the patron goddess of Athens, and in her honor, Athenians built the Parthenon. This gift became extremely important to the Athenians. It was their major export and Athens could not have survived without it. Olive leaves had a great significance in the Olympic Games. A crown of olive leaves was given to winners of the Games, which symbolized great fame and victory.

I love olives, and the great food created with fresh olive oil. I like walking outside and admiring the rows of lush olive trees. My favorite thing is to pick some of the unripe olives off the trees and throw them at my Dad, although I usually get in trouble! Olives have had a great impact on the world for thousands of years, and have been very important to ancient and modern civilization.