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History Of Olive Trees
Olive trees, ‘Olea europaea,’ are the oldest fruit trees and are certainly one of the most important fruit trees in history. Olive culture has been closely linked to the rise and fall of Mediterranean empires and other advanced civilizations throughout the ages. As olive trees offered wealth and future food supplies to established civilizations, the agricultural nations became stable societies, resulting from a secure expectation of past experience of an uninterrupted food and olive oil supply. This factor was a necessary requirement for population growth and increase. Reliable fruit production and olive oil production means that olive trees must exist in a stable society and peaceful environment. That stability must extend over many years, as most ancient seedling olive trees required eight or more years before ever producing the first fruit.
Productive orchards of olive trees meant that the foundation of the great empires of Greece and Rome arose and developed into complex economic and political forces. It is interesting to note that the historical decline of these empires corresponded to the destruction of their olive orchards which reduced the available supplies of olives, olive oil, olive wood, and olive soap. In connection with the destruction of olive trees, it is interesting to note that in the Israeli wars with Palestine, 50,000 olive trees were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. This act of agricultural destruction resulted in considerable anger and unrest along the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as the economic livelihood of many Palestinian farmers depended on their products from the uprooted olive trees. Moreover, the olive tree was historically a symbol of “peace and goodwill”, and when the olive trees were leveled near the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and the “Cradle of Biblical History”, this elimination of olive trees seemed to be deliberate. a provocation to end the “peace” with the Palestinian settlers and farmers.
Medicinal properties of olive oil were reported by many ancient Greek writers and philosophers, their importance in creating nutritional benefits and wealth for Greek citizens continues in abundance today – some Greek olive groves containing a million or more trees. Aristotle wrote extensively about the accepted methods of successfully cultivating olive trees.
Greek mythology records that Athena, the Goddess of wisdom and peace, struck her magic spear into the Earth, and it became an olive tree, thus, the place where the olive tree appeared and grew was named Athens, Greece, in honor of the Goddess, Athena. Local legend tells us that the original olive tree still stands growing after many centuries at the ancient holy site. Citizens still claim that all Greek olive trees originated from rooted cuttings that were grown from that original olive tree. Homer claimed in his writings that the ancient olive tree growing in Athens was already 10,000 years old. Homer stated that Greek courts sentenced people to death if they destroyed an olive tree. In 775 BC Olympia, Greece, on the site of the ancient Olympic stadium, athletes competed and trained, and winners were triumphantly acclaimed and crowned with a wreath made of olive branches. Ancient gold coins that were minted in Athens depicted the face of the goddess, Athena, wearing an olive leaf crown on her helmet holding a clay jar of olive oil. The Greeks started olive cultivation in 700 BC
The sacred lamp that was used in ancient Greek culture to light dark rooms at night was fueled with olive oil. Aged olive oil was also used in holy anointing rites of the church at weddings and at baptisms. Herodotus wrote in 500 BC that the cultivation and export of olives and olive oil were so sacred that only virgins and eunuchs were allowed to cultivate orchards of olive trees. The first documented plantings of olive trees may have occurred during the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete and probably grew around 3500 BC This civilization predates the discovery of Mycenaean olive fossils from 1600 BC and later in the Greek empire. Sturt Manning, an archaeologist from Cornell University, reported in Live Science Magazine (April 28, 2005) that the most devastating volcano in 10,000 years occurred on the Greek Island of Thera, after which the city of Akrotiri was completely buried by the falling ash. The finding of olive wood and olive seed fossils buried near the site showed by carbon dating that the volcanic eruption occurred between 1660 and 1600 BC and may have contributed to the total destruction of the advanced Minoan civilization (Atlantis) on the island of Crete and may have caused the formation of the Sahara desert in North Africa after vaporization of the indigenous forests there.
The fragrant flowers of olive trees are small and creamy white, hidden inside the thick leaves. Some cultivars will self-pollinate, but others will not. The flowers usually begin to appear in April and can last for many months. A wild, planted olive tree normally begins to flower and produce fruit at the age of 8 years. The fruit of the olive tree is purple-black when fully ripe, but some cultivars are green when ripe and some olives turn a copper-brown color. The size of the olive fruit is variable, even on the same tree, and the shape varies from round to oval with pointed ends. Some olives can be eaten fresh after sun-drying and the taste is sweet, but most olive cultivars are bitter and must be treated with various chemical solutions before developing into edible olives. If the olives are thinned on the branches of the trees to 2 or 3 per twig, the ultimate size of the olives will be much larger. The fruit is collected in mid-October and must be processed as soon as possible to prevent fermentation and decline in quality.
The leaves of olive trees are grey-green and are replaced at 2-3 year intervals during the spring after new growth. Pruning annually and severely is very important to ensure continued production. The trees have the unproductive limbs removed, “that it may be more fruitful” John 15:2. An olive tree can grow up to 50 feet with a branch spread of 30 feet, but most growers will keep the tree pruned to 20 feet to ensure maximum production. New shoots and trees will emerge from the olive tree stump roots, even if the trees are cut down. Some olive trees are believed to be over a thousand years old, and most will live to the ripe old age of 500 years.
Olives are generally knocked off trees with poles, harvested mechanically or by shaking the fruit from the trees on a canvas. Ripe olives are removed from the trees after the majority of the fruit begins to change in color. It is important to press the olive oil within a day of harvesting or else fermentation or a decrease in flavor and quality will occur. The olive oil can be consumed or used in cooking immediately after its collection from the press. Olive oils are unique and distinct, each brand of olive oil has its own character, as determined by many factors, such as those unique flavor differences found in fine wines. Finished commercial olive oils can vary greatly in aroma, fruit flavor; whether the taste is floral, nutty, delicate or mild, and the coloring of olive oil is quite varied.
Olive oil produces many health benefits when used in cooking or when drizzled over salads. The use of olive oil can improve digestion and can benefit cardiac metabolism through its low cholesterol content. Experts claim that the consumption of olive oil will cause a person to grow shiny hair, prevent dandruff, prevent wrinkles, prevent dry skin and acne, strengthen nails, stop muscle pains, lower blood pressure and cancel the effects of alcohol.
Olive trees can survive droughts and strong winds, and they grow well in well-drained soils up to a pH of 8.5 and the trees can tolerate saline conditions. In Europe, olive trees are normally fertilized every other year with organic fertilizer. Alternate holding can be avoided by heavy pruning and generally the trees respond to this very quickly and favorably.
Olive trees that have been vegetatively propagated or grafted should be purchased, as the seed trees will revert to a wild type that produces small olives with a bland flavor. Olive trees are more resistant to diseases and insects than any other fruit tree and, therefore, are sprayed less than any other crop.
Even though commercial production of olives in the United States is only 2% of the world market, great interest in growing olives throughout the South has been stimulated by the recent introduction of promising cool-season olive trees from European hybridizers. Many European immigrants to the United States grow their own olive trees in large pots that can be moved in and out of the house during seasonal changes.
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