The olive tree, Olea europaea, has been cultivated for olive oil, fine wood, olive leaf, and the olive fruit.
Archaeological finds proving that the Minoans used olive oil in their daily lives are found everywhere in Crete. The Minoans used olive oil in their diet, as a cleanser, as the base for scents and ointments, as a medicine, in tanning, for lighting and to protect delicate surfaces.
The olive tree was a particularly important symbol for the ancient Greeks. It was connected to their diet and their religion, and was used as a decorative motif on vases, in gold jewelry and elsewhere. It was considered a symbol of peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power and purity. That is why the winners of the Olympic Games were crowned with a wreath of wild olive.
Olive oil was also a valuable medicine in the hands of ancient Greek doctors. Hippocrates mentions 60 different conditions which could be treated with it, such as skin conditions, wounds and burns, gynecological ailments, ear infections and many others.
When medicine was not enough to save the patient, olive oil was used in laying out the dead. Women washed the body and anointed it with olive oil or scented oils. Oil, wine, honey and other products were offered to the dead at the graveside.
Another popular use of olive oil in ancient Greece was for oiling athletes’ bodies before exercise in the gymnasium and at games.
The Roman poet Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "As for me, olives, endives, and smooth mallows provide sustenance."(1) Lord Monboddo comments on the olive in 1779 as one of the foods preferred by the ancients and as one of the most perfect foods.(2)
Medical applications of extra virgin olive oil are infinite.
In a study conducted by a group of biochemists from the University of Milan concluded that about 1,000 substances are present in olive oil. The finding may thus indicate that the many benefits of olive oil may not be due from just a few components, but rather from a specific combination. (Pedrotti, 32)
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants and helps to absorb vitamin A, D, E, and K. (Schiaffino, 84)
Thanks to its composition, extra virgin olive oil extracted cold is the fat that is simpler to digest. Rated 100% digestible vs. 83% sunflower, 57% sesame, 36% corn oil. (Pedrotti, 34)
Olive oil promotes an anti putrid action which fights intestinal fermentation and regulates the bacteria in the intestines. It increases the movements in contraction and relaxation of the muscle tissue of the intestines, thus facilitating the movement of food. (Pedrotti, 36)
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that "women who used olive oil more than once a day, had a 25% lower risk of breast cancer than women who used it less often."
Olive oil affects positively the cerebral growth in babies. In fact, one of the two fatty acids that make up the phospholipids that form cerebral and nervous tissues are usually oleic acids, and olive oil is about 73% oleic acid. Olive oil also has the same concentration of linolenic acid of breast milk. (Schiaffino, 84)
Olive oil prevents arteriosclerosis, myocardial stroke, and obesity; lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) level and raising the good one (HDL) that cleans the arteries. (Schiaffino, 82)
Olive oil is rich in linoleic acid which is an important element for the development of the nervous system, especially in early childhood. Linoleic acid also contributes in the regulation of the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream and seems it cannot be created by the human body. Therefore, it has to be introduced in the diet. (Pedrotti, 35)
According to French researchers, olive oil seems to be necessary during the growth of the body and also during the elder years to limit the loss of calcium in the bones. Olive oil also favors the mineralization and development of bones, thus fighting osteoporosis. Laval-Jeantet demonstrate that the diets that most favor this effect are the ones that contain olive oil. (Consiglio Oleico Internazionale, 92)
Moreover, some studies seem to demonstrate that extra virgin olive oil carries the capacity of diminishing cellular aging and increase antiviral defenses up to 40 times. (Schiaffino, 83) (Pedrotti, 37)
Fedeli has demonstrated the stability of olive oil at high temperatures of cooking and frying and Varela has justified that the digestibility of food doesn't change with the heating in olive oil, not even after ten trials repeated with fish or meat. From all of these findings it seems we could conclude that olive oil is, because of its better resistance to oxidative deterioration, best suited for frying. (Consiglio Oleico Internazionale, 96)
The heat and water are some of the most dangerous enemies of olive oil. The complete cold extraction of the oil through the use of presses translates in the extra virgin olive oil a bionutritional superiority and organoleptic and a better conservation period than any other oil. (Pedrotti, 37)
If your nails break easily, leave your hands in a bath of warm olive oil and then wash them with iodide alcohol. (Schiaffino, 86)
To whiten your teeth, massage regularly the gums with your finger dipped in olive oil. (Schiaffino, 86)
Pedrotti, Walter. Olio Extravergine di Oliva.Spremuto a Freddo. Demetra S.r.l. 1st ed. Apr.1993. Sommacampagna.
Consiglio Oleico Internazionale. L'olivo, L'olio, L'oliva. Adicom, S.L. Madrid.
Schiaffino, Mariarosa. Un Filo D'Olio. Idealibri. Milano. 1991
1. Letter from Lord Monboddo to John Hope, 29 April 1779; reprinted by William Knight 1900 ISBN 1-85506-207-0
2. Macdonald, Nathan (2008). What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?. pp. 23–24.