Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Before the holidays we had an olive brining workshop, reminding us that olive season is ending soon. These little fruits have a lot to offer so be sure to harvest them while you can!
Olives and the Olea europea tree have significance in many cultures and religions. Mythology teaches that the goddess Athena gifted an olive tree to the Greeks, planting the first olive tree on the Acropolis. The oil is often used as holy oil for anointing and blessing bishops, kings, winning athletes, the dead, and for other ceremonial purposes.
Olives are considered a drupe or stone fruit and are one of the most largely produced fruits in the world. The olive tree – originating in Asia Minor, spreading to Mediterranean regions, and then even farther with Roman expansion – is one of the oldest cultivated trees, thrives in rocky soil and lives for hundreds of years. The difference in color of the olive is based on the level of ripeness when harvested – green olives are less ripe, whereas black olives have reached peak ripeness – as well as how long they are cured or soaked in brine. California produces 95% of the United States’ olives, growing mainly the Manzanillo and Sevillano varieties. Globally, Spain is the largest producer, followed by Italy, Greece, Turkey and Tunisia. Of the olives grown in the Mediterranean, 90% are used for olive oil.
Olives contain oleuropein, a phenolic compound creating the bitterness of an olive which deters birds and humans from eating them right off the tree. This compound is why olives must be cured before consumption.
Traditionally, olives and the tree’s leaves were used for their medicinal properties. They were known to treat inflammation and allergies, studies now showing extracts serve as antihistamines. The leaves, often prepared as a tea, are also helpful in lowering blood pressure, treating arteriosclerosis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
Olives offer an incredible amount of nutrients, minerals, nourishing fats, antioxidants, polyphenols, phytonutrients and more. Some important ones to note are: Beta-lutein, calcium, carotene, choline, copper, cryptoxanthin, iron, magnesium, oleuropein, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vitamins A, E and K, zeaxanthin and zinc.
Three-quarters of an olive’s fat content is a monounsaturated fatty acid, known as oleic acid, which has been linked to a lesser risk of cardiovascular diseases. Olives also provide linoleic acid, and the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.
Studies have shown that olives can be beneficial for heart health by reducing blood pressure and regulating cholesterol. A specific fatty acid contained in olives – oleic acid – is connected to these benefits.
Inflammation fighting antioxidants are found in high amounts in olives. These antioxidants inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms. Eating olives can increase a certain powerful antioxidant – glutathione – in the blood.
Olives also contain Vitamin E which offers antioxidant properties as well.
Human studies have not been done yet, but animal studies suggest that olives can be helpful in maintaining bone health and preventing bone loss. Additionally, Mediterranean countries, with diets high in olives and olive oil, experience less osteoporosis which suggests olives as a potential defender against osteoporosis.
Cancer is also less common in Mediterranean countries compared to those in the West. The high content of antioxidants and oleic acid contribute compounds that could help prevent cancer.
Something to keep in mind is the high salt content of olives due to the liquid in which they’re packaged. Heavy metals and minerals could also be found in olives, although at very low levels.
There are plenty of olive brining recipes and instructions online. Check them out and experiment with different flavors and herbs!
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- Food Facts - What Are Olives Good For?
- Healthline - Olives 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS, LN
- Kooperation Phytopharmaka - Olive Tree
- The Olive Oil Source - History of the Olive
- The World's Healthiest Foods - Olives