The fruit of the olea europaea, also known as the olive tree, has been cultivated for centuries for its medicinal properties. Rich in symbolism and practicality, the olea europaea is indigenous to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Practitioners of holistic medicine and herbalists utilize the fruit, oil, and leaves of the olea europaea for a variety of medicinal uses. Well-known benefits of the versatile olive oil have made it increasingly popular both as a healthy culinary ingredient and home remedy.
Revered in Greek myth, the olea europaea was originally cultivated on the Greek isle of Crete where it was said the trees matured to an age of 200 years. Various parts of the olive tree have long been associated with religious and virtuous symbolism. Olive oil is often used in religious ceremonies for cleansing and consecration purposes and, in some cases, it is worn in a small container as a talisman. The branch of the olive tree is associated with peace and good will, though the origins of this affinity are unknown. Prominent during the Olympic Games, the leaves of the olive tree are associated with honor and victory when woven into a crown.
The olive tree is an evergreen that matures to a height of nearly 30 feet (9.4 m). Characterized by its rubbery leaves and greenish-white flowers, the perennial olea europaea belongs to the family Oleaceae. Leaves gathered from the olea europaea are purported to possess higher concentrations of its active constituents, including leine, oleasterol, and oleoropine in addition to beneficial triterpenes and flavonoids.
Traditional applications for the leaves include a circulatory tonic, diuretic, antioxidant, and astringent. Historically, prepared as a decoction, or tea, the leaves have been utilized to treat numerous disorders, including the regulation of blood sugar in diabetics, alleviating hypertension, and treating urinary tract issues and bladder inflammation. Holistic medicine practitioners employ the use of the leaves for the treatment of arrhythmia and rheumatism, as well as its traditional aforementioned applications.
Oil cultivated from the olive tree has been traditionally used as a soothing ointment and laxative. A common ingredient in soaps, the active constituents of olive oil include vitamins E, A, and K, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. Available in various grades, the dietary benefits of the oil are that it contains no cholesterol, trans fat, or sodium. Holistic medicine employs olive oil for the treatment of conditions including constipation, digestive problems, and atherosclerosis. Olive oil is also a popular ingredient in both commercial and homemade beauty and skin care products.
The antioxidant properties of olive oil are beneficial for promoting skin elasticity and disrupting the harmful effects of environmental pollutants that damage the skin. As a neutral carrier oil, olive oil works well as an ingredient for most essential oils. When added to a bath or moisturizer, olive oil is good for mature, dry, or sensitive skin types. Combined with lemon juice, olive oil makes a beneficial nail soak to strengthen brittle, dry nails. An ingredient in some lip balms, olive oil alleviates chapped, cracked lips when applied at bedtime.
The fruit of the olive tree contains vitamins and minerals in addition to the active constituents possessed by the olea europaea’s leaves and oil. Many B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals such as zinc, copper, and magnesium contribute to the olive's health benefits, especially in easing menopausal symptoms, promoting cell regeneration, and alleviating constipation. Unlike other portions of the olive tree, the fruit does contain high levels of sodium which, when consumed excessively, can contribute to water retention.