History of Olive Oil
“Let thy food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food” - Hippocrates
The Mediterranean is the historic home of the olive where it has been an important part of life for thousands of years. The olive, a symbol of peace, and the tree which produces olives (olea europea) are known to have been cultivated around the Mediterranean about 6000 years ago. Stone tablets found dating back to 2500 BC from the court of King Minos of Crete make reference to the olive plant, suggesting that cultivation originated in Greece.
Throughout the history of the Mediterranean, the olive was a symbol of wealth, fame and peace. It played a fundamental role in culture, the arts, trade, technology and the economy. There are myths and legends abound romanticizing the powers of this “Liquid Gold” as it was referred to by Homer in the Iliad.
Olive oil was a basic staple in daily life with the olive and its oil being a major part of the diet.
Olive oil was used in both cooked and uncooked dishes with a typical meal containing grains or flour mixed or rubbed with olive oil sometimes with added honey. A favorite cake in Roman times was called vatica which contained only flour, salt and olive oil. Different meats were always generously oiled before and after cooking. The ancient Greeks invented the salad dressing which was comprised of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and honey.
In addition to being a healthy food, olive oil was a main source of light and was highly prized as fuel especially for religious ceremonies. As a beauty regiment, affluent society poured olive oil over their bodies and generously bathed with it as did the athletes participating in ancient Greek games. Olive oil also served as a base for perfumes and cosmetics, which were highly prized during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Believing olive oil possessed natural healing powers, Hippocrates was the first known medical practitioner to use olive oil based ointments to treat wounds and traumas. By the Middle Ages, olive oil continued to reveal new curative properties as it became a well-known remedy for sore throats, cuts and bruises.
Today, we continue to utilize olive oil in many of the same ways our ancestors did. In cooking, beauty, and health, we can find olive oil at the core of all great applications.