Health and Wellness

Importance of the Olive and Olive Tree in History

The olive (botanical name Olea europaea) is a species of small tree in the Oleaceae family which is cultivated in many parts of the world. It is considered an ancient symbol of peace and wisdom.1 The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean and Africa, and since ancient times, olive oil production from the olive fruit has been sacred in some cultures (e.g. it is reported that ancient Greeks smeared olive oil over their bodies and hair to ensure good health).1

In traditional medicine, many parts of the olive tree have been used as remedies for illness and to maintain health and prevent diseases.2 This ranges from the consumption and topical application of olive oil, to the extraction of antioxidants from the olive leaf as an herbal tea or natural remedy to reduce illness and improve health.2

It is also well known that the consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (particularly as part of a Mediterranean Diet) is associated with many health benefits.

 

History 

In biblical times, the olive tree served as a symbol of peace and unity.

Since ancient times, people have used all elements of the olive tree to improve health and wellness, and prevent disease. For example, the history of olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet dates back to 8000 BCE.3 (Note: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the principal fat included in a Mediterranean dietary pattern.)

 

 

 

Olive as a Complementary Medicine

Olea europaea has a variety of traditional and contemporary uses in medicine. The bark, fruit, leaves, wood, seeds and oil have all been used in different forms, alone, or in combination with other herbs to remedy many ailments and conditions, and to ensure good health and wellness.2

The below table shows information reporting the use of the olive as a complementary medicine.2

Component
Leaf and fruit – infusion, maceration, decoction (oral and topical)
Olive seed (oral)
Olive oil (topical)
Olive oil with lemon juice (oral)
Fresh leaves (dry and fresh) – boiled extract, extract in hot water, infusion
Olive fruit
Reported Traditional and Contemporary Use

Treatment of hypertension

Reduction of blood sugar

Treatment of diabetes

Treatment of diarrhoea

Treatment of respiratory and urinary tract infections

Treatment of haemorrhoids

Treatment of eye infections

Treatment of constipation
Prevention of hair loss (applied to scalp)
Treatment of gallstones

Treatment of asthma

Treatment of hypertension

Reduction of fluid retention (diuretic)

Reduction of fever

Reduction of inflammation (tonic)

Treatment of gout

Treatment of bacterial infections

Cleansing the skin
Table – Olea europaea – Summary of Reported Traditional and Contemporary Uses.2
It is well known that people have used olive based products for health for a long time. However, it must be noted that the details in the above table are reported uses of olive products as a complementary medicine, rather than based on evidence. Further sections of this website will detail where scientific evidence does exist to support therapeutic use. For more specific information please view these pages: Olive Leaf ExtractHealth Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Global Examples of Traditional Health Uses

 

Traditional reference books show multiple health uses of the olive and olive tree products, such as the below examples:6-9

Argentina
Decoctions of the dry fruit were used as a remedy for diarrhoea, urinary and respiratory tract infections.

Brazil
Hot water extracts of the olive leaf were used to treat hypertension and induce diuresis.

China
Traditional Chinese Medicine principles include the use of olives and olive products for health. Olives are a suggested food to treat conditions such as dysentery, toothache, sore throats, coughs and congestion.

One common pathology in Traditional Chinese Medicine is called ‘damp’. Too much damp in the body may have negative health implications (e.g. abdominal discomfort, joint pain and poor concentration). Olive oil is among one of the foods that can be used to encourage the metabolism of damp, and assist with the health disturbances it may cause.

East Africa
Infusion of the bark of the olive tree were used as a tapeworm remedy.

Egypt
The olive leaf was used as a health remedy for many centuries, dating back to Ancient Egyptians.

Greece
Hot water extracts of the olive leaf were used to treat hypertension.

Iran
Decoctions of the dry olive bark were used to treat hypertension, olive oil was used as a laxative and for other gastrointestinal complaints (such as gallstones and obstructions), and externally applied olive oil was used as a skin emollient and for snake and insect bites.

Italy
Extract of the fruit’s essential oil were used to treat constipation and applied topically to treat sunburn, decoction of the fruits essential oil was used as a diuretic and hypotensive, and infusion of the fresh leaf was used as an anti-inflammatory.

Japan
Olive leaves were used to treat stomach and intestinal diseases, and essential oils used for constipation and liver pain.

Morocco
Fresh leaves were consumed to treat stomach and intestinal diseases, and the essential oil was used for constipation and liver pain.

Spain
Leaf infusion was used to treat hypertension, leaf extract was used to treat gastrointestinal colic, and fresh leaves were consumed for the management of diabetes.

United States
Infusion of the fruit was used to treat hypertension and agitation, and an extract of the fruit was used as a mild laxatives

Please note that these are traditional uses of olive-based products that often require more evidence to substantiate their ongoing use for such purposes. This information is intended to demonstrate the widespread use of olives and olive oil across the world for a variety of ailments.

 

References

  1. Explore Crete. History of Olive Oil.
    At: http://www.explorecrete.com/nature/olive-oil-history.html
  2. Ali Hashim M, Hanif M, Farooq U, et al. Traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Olea europea (Olive). Ev Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;doi.10.1155/2015/541591
  3. Boskou D. Olive oil chemistry and technology. 2nd edition. 2006. AOCS Press: Illinois.
  4. Altomare R, Cacciabaudo F, Damiano G, et al. The Mediterranean diet: a history of health. Iran J Pub Health. 2013;42(5):449–57.
  5. Olive Oil Source. History of the Olive.
    At: https://www.oliveoilsource.com/page/history-olive
  6. Ross, I.A. Medicinal Plants of the World. 2005. Volume 3: pp. 373-388
  7. Lu H. Traditional Chinese Medicine – An authoritative and comprehensive guide. 2005. Basic Health Publications: Toronto.
  8. Ali Hashmi M, Hanif M, Farooq U, et al. Traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Olea europaea (Olive). Ev Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; doi:10.1155/2015/541591
  9. Kura Chinese Medicine. Damp in Chinese Medicine.
    At: http://kurachinesemedicine.com.au/food/damp-in-chinese-medicine/

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