Olive trees originate from the Mediterranean basin and theircultivation and the extraction of olive oil from the fruithave deep roots into history, counting back thousands of years. Nowadays, olive trees are cultivated in all continents apart from Antarctica and have several different varieties.
It is not clear where and when the cultivation of olive trees first started, but there is a widely held view that it was in Crete. The first surviving olive oil amphorae date back to the Early Minoan times in 3500 BC, but olive production is believed to have taken place before 4000 BC. It is certain though that olive trees were cultivated in the area after 1500 BC at the Late Minoan period and their cultivation was a significant factor for the growth of Crete’s economy.
The myth of olive tree
Greek mythology presents a different viewpoint of the first olive tree. When the city of Athens was still unnamed, Athena and Poseidon competed with each other of who would be the protecting deity of the city. Each one of them offered the citizens a gift and it was up to the Athenians to decide which one they preferred and as a consequence which god would become their protector. Poseidon offered them sea water, but even though this offered them the possibility of trade and the formation of naval power, the water was not drinkable. Athena on her side gave the citizens the first olive tree for cultivation that brought them food, wood and oil. The Athenians chose the olive tree and Athena as the protector of their city.
Other uses of olive oil along history
Apart from an excellent nutritional source, olive oil has been used in history for skin care purposes as well. Ancient Greeks used olive oil during massage to relieve muscles from tiredness or to ease them from sports injuries. In ancient Egypt it was used for skin cleansing, moisturizing and antiseptic purposes.
Olive oil contains antioxidants, such as polyphenols and vitamin E, which help skin renew and repair from everyday hazards such as air pollution and over-exposure to the sun. As a result, nowadays olive oil’s use is continually increasing for cosmetic purposes as a skin moisturizer, eye makeup remover, nail care and hair care.