Latin Name: Olea Europaea Subspecies cuspidata
Known Hazards: None known.
Habitat: Woods and scrub in dry rocky places.
Edibility Rating: 4 (1-5)
Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)
Physical Characteristics: Shrub or branched tree to about 12 m high at a slow rate. Leaves oblong to elliptic; upper surface glossy grey-green, margins entire and recurved. It is in leaf all year.
Flowers: Cream to greenish, in clusters at the end of branches. Flowers mostly spring. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by wind. The plant is self-fertile.
Distinguishing features: Distinguished by simple leaves with silver, green or brown scaly undersurface; curved leaf tip; absence of small depressions between the main and secondary veins on the back of the leaf (domatia); fruit to 1 cm long, purple-black and succulent when ripe.
Dispersal: Spread by bird-dispersed seed. Also vegetatively by cuttings and pieces..
Edible Parts: Olive fruits are widely used, especially in the Mediterranean, as a relish and flavouring for foods. The fruit is usually pickled or cured with water, brine, oil, salt or lye. They can also be dried in the sun and eaten without curing when they are called ‘fachouilles’. The cured fruits are eaten as a relish, stuffed with pimentos or almonds, or used in breads, soups, salads etc. ‘Olives schiacciate’ are olives picked green, crushed, cured in oil and used as a salad. The fruit contains 20 – 50µ vitamin D per 100g. The fruit is up to 4cm long. The seed is rich in an edible non-drying oil, this is used in salads and cooking and, because of its distinct flavour, is considered a condiment. There are various grades of the oil, the finest (known as ‘Extra Virgin’) is produced by cold pressing the seeds without using heat or chemical solvents. The seed of unpalatable varieties is normally used and this oil has the lowest percentage of acidity and therefore the best flavour. Other grades of the oil come from seeds that are heated (which enables more oil to be expressed but has a deleterious effect on the quality) or from using chemical solvents on seed that has already been pressed for higher grades of oil. Olive oil is mono-unsaturated and regular consumption is thought to reduce the risk of circulatory diseases. The seed contains albumen, it is the only seed known to do this. An edible manna is obtained from the tree.
Antipruritic; Antiseptic; Astringent; Bach; Cholagogue; Demulcent; Emollient; Febrifuge; Hypoglycaemic; Laxative; Sedative. The oil from the pericarp is cholagogue, a nourishing demulcent, emollient and laxative. Eating the oil reduces gastric secretions and is therefore of benefit to patients suffering from hyperacidity. The oil is also used internally as a laxative and to treat peptic ulcers. It is used externally to treat pruritis, the effects of stings or burns and as a vehicle for liniments. Used with alcohol it is a good hair tonic and used with oil of rosemary it is a good treatment for dandruff. The oil is also commonly used as a base for liniments and ointments. The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge and sedative. A decoction is used in treating obstinate fevers, they also have a tranquillising effect on nervous tension and hypertension. Experimentally, they have been shown to decrease blood sugar levels by 17 – 23%. Externally, they are applied to abrasions. The bark is astringent, bitter and febrifuge. It is said to be a substitute for quinine in the treatment of malaria. In warm countries the bark exudes a gum-like substance that has been used as a vulnerary. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Complete exhaustion’ and ‘Mental fatigue’.
Dye; Hair; Oil; Soil stabilization; Wood. The non-drying oil obtained from the seed is also used for soap making, lighting and as a lubricant. The oil is a good hair tonic and dandruff treatment. Maroon and purple dyes are obtained from the whole fresh ripe fruits. Blue and black dyes are obtained from the skins of fresh ripe fruits. A yellow/green dye is obtained from the leaves. Plants are used to stabilize dry dusty hillsides. Wood – very hard, heavy, beautifully grained, takes a fine polish and is slightly fragrant. It is used in turnery and cabinet making, being much valued by woodworkers.
Notes: A locally common weed of roadsides, neglected land and stream banks. African Olive produces fruit that are usually smaller and less fleshy than those of plants cultivated for edible olives and olive oil. An olive branch is a traditional symbol of peace, laurel leaves were used by the ancient Greeks to crown winners of the Olympic games.