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
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
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 asthma
Treatment of hypertension
Reduction of fluid retention (diuretic)
Reduction of fever
Reduction of inflammation (tonic)
Treatment of gout
Treatment of bacterial infections
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 Extract, Health 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
Decoctions of the dry fruit were used as a remedy for diarrhoea, urinary and respiratory tract infections.
Hot water extracts of the olive leaf were used to treat hypertension and induce diuresis.
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.
Infusion of the bark of the olive tree were used as a tapeworm remedy.
The olive leaf was used as a health remedy for many centuries, dating back to Ancient Egyptians.
Hot water extracts of the olive leaf were used to treat hypertension.
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.
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.
Olive leaves were used to treat stomach and intestinal diseases, and essential oils used for constipation and liver pain.
Fresh leaves were consumed to treat stomach and intestinal diseases, and the essential oil was used for constipation and liver pain.
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.
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.
- Explore Crete. History of Olive Oil.
- 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
- Boskou D. Olive oil chemistry and technology. 2nd edition. 2006. AOCS Press: Illinois.
- Altomare R, Cacciabaudo F, Damiano G, et al. The Mediterranean diet: a history of health. Iran J Pub Health. 2013;42(5):449–57.
- Olive Oil Source. History of the Olive.
- Ross, I.A. Medicinal Plants of the World. 2005. Volume 3: pp. 373-388
- Lu H. Traditional Chinese Medicine – An authoritative and comprehensive guide. 2005. Basic Health Publications: Toronto.
- 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
- Kura Chinese Medicine. Damp in Chinese Medicine.