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African Olive

Latin Name: Olea Europaea Subspecies cuspidata

foraging_african_olivesAlternative Name(s): Olea europaea subspecies africanaOlea africanaOlea cuspidata.

Family: Oleaceae.

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; fruit to 1 cm long, purple-black and succulent when ripe.

Dispersal: Spread by bird-dispersed seed. Also vegetatively by cuttings and pieces..

african olive

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.  The cured fruits are eaten as a relish or used in bread, soups, salads etc.  The fruit contains 20 – 50µ vitamin D per 100g. The fruit is up to 1cm 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.
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.

Medicinal Uses

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’.

Other Uses

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.