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Olea europaea - L.                
Common Name Olive, African olive, European olive
Family Oleaceae
USDA hardiness 8-10
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Woods and scrub in dry rocky places[50].
Range S. Europe - Mediterranean.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Frost Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun

Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Rounded, Spreading or horizontal.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of cone
Olea europaea is an evergreen Tree growing to 10 m (32ft) by 8 m (26ft) at a slow rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 8. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Olea europaea Olive, African olive,  European olive

Olea europaea Olive, African olive,  European olive
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; South Wall. By. West Wall. By.
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Leaves;  Manna;  Oil;  Oil.
Edible Uses: Condiment;  Oil;  Oil.

Olive fruits are widely used, especially in the Mediterranean, as a relish and flavouring for foods. The fruit is usually pickled or cured with water, brine, oil, salt or lye[2, 3, 4, 89, 183]. They can also be dried in the sun and eaten without curing when they are called 'fachouilles'[183]. The cured fruits are eaten as a relish, stuffed with pimentos or almonds, or used in breads, soups, salads etc[183]. 'Olives schiacciate' are olives picked green, crushed, cured in oil and used as a salad[183]. The fruit contains 20 - 50µ vitamin D per 100g[74]. The fruit is up to 4cm long[200]. The seed is rich in an edible non-drying oil, this is used in salads and cooking and, because of its distinct flavour, is considered a condiment[4, 46, 57, 89, 171, 183]. There are various grades of the oil, the finest (known as 'Extra Virgin') is produced by cold pressing the seeds without using heat or chemical solvents[238]. The seed of unpalatable varieties is normally used and this oil has the lowest percentage of acidity and therefore the best flavour[238]. Other grades of the oil come from seeds that are heated (which enables more oil to be expressed but has a deleterious effect on the quality) or from using chemical solvents on seed that has already been pressed for higher grades of oil. Olive oil is mono-unsaturated and regular consumption is thought to reduce the risk of circulatory diseases[238]. The seed contains albumen, it is the only seed known to do this[7]. Leaves[2]. No more details are given. An edible manna is obtained from the tree[183].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antipruritic;  Antiseptic;  Astringent;  Bach;  Cholagogue;  Demulcent;  Emollient;  Febrifuge;  Hypoglycaemic;  Laxative;  Sedative.

The oil from the pericarp is cholagogue, a nourishing demulcent, emollient and laxative[4, 21, 240]. Eating the oil reduces gastric secretions and is therefore of benefit to patients suffering from hyperacidity[238]. The oil is also used internally as a laxative and to treat peptic ulcers[4, 238]. It is used externally to treat pruritis, the effects of stings or burns and as a vehicle for liniments[4, 21]. Used with alcohol it is a good hair tonic and used with oil of rosemary it is a good treatment for dandruff[4, 21]. The oil is also commonly used as a base for liniments and ointments[21]. The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge and sedative[4, 21]. A decoction is used in treating obstinate fevers, they also have a tranquillising effect on nervous tension and hypertension[4, 238]. Experimentally, they have been shown to decrease blood sugar levels by 17 - 23%[240]. Externally, they are applied to abrasions[238]. The bark is astringent, bitter and febrifuge[4, 240]. It is said to be a substitute for quinine in the treatment of malaria[240]. In warm countries the bark exudes a gum-like substance that has been used as a vulnerary[4]. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Complete exhaustion' and 'Mental fatigue'[209].
Other Uses
Dye;  Hair;  Oil;  Oil;  Soil stabilization;  Wood.

The non-drying oil obtained from the seed is also used for soap making, lighting and as a lubricant[21, 46, 89]. The oil is a good hair tonic and dandruff treatment[21]. Maroon and purple dyes are obtained from the whole fresh ripe fruits[168]. Blue and black dyes are obtained from the skins of fresh ripe fruits[168]. A yellow/green dye is obtained from the leaves[168]. Plants are used to stabilize dry dusty hillsides[200]. Wood - very hard, heavy, beautifully grained, takes a fine polish and is slightly fragrant. It is used in turnery and cabinet making, being much valued by woodworkers[4, 7, 46, 100].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Container, Espalier, Pollard, Standard, Specimen, Street tree. Easily grown in a loamy soil[1] and tolerating infertile soils[200], it prefers a well-drained deep fertile soil[200]. A drought resistant plant once established, it succeeds in dry soils[200]. Requires a sunny position[3]. Tolerates salty air[59]. Plants are slow-growing and very long-lived[188]. The olive is very commonly cultivated in Mediterranean climates for its edible seed, there are many named varieties[132, 183]. Trees can produce a crop when they are 6 years old and continue producing a commercial yield for the next 50 years[200] - many trees continue to give good yields for hundreds of years, even when their trunk is hollow[4]. They succeed outdoors in the milder areas of Britain[11], though plants rarely produce fruit when grown in this country[4, 182, 200], preferring warm temperate regions with mild moist winters and hot dry summers[200]. Some reports say that trees often fruit in south-western England[11, 59]. Generally, older trees are hardy to about -10°c[3, 200]. They require the protection of a south facing wall when grown in the London area[11]. At least some cultivars are self-fertile[200]. Some cultivars have been selected mainly for their fruits whilst others have been selected for their oil[200]. 'Mission' is grown for its edible fruits. It is vigorous, prolific and very cold resistant[200]. 'Moraiolo' is grown for its oil, it is very hardy and strong-growing[200]. Flower production depends on a 12 - 15 week period of diurnally fluctuating temperatures with at least 2 months averaging below 10°c[200]. Pruning can encourage non-fruiting water-shoots[200]. Weighing down or arching the branches can encourage fruiting[200]. The plants fruit best on wood that is one year old so any pruning should take this into account[238]. An olive branch is a traditional symbol of peace[148], laurel leaves were used by the ancient Greeks to crown winners of the Olympic games[4]. Plants have male flowers and bisexual flowers[200]. Special Features: Not North American native, Naturalizing, Fragrant flowers.
Seed - sow late winter in a shady position in a greenhouse[78]. Home produced seed should be given a period of cold stratification first[78]. Where possible, it is best to sow the seed as soon as it is ripe in a greenhouse in the autumn. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter, perhaps for their first 2 - 3 winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer and give them some protection from winter cold for at least their first winter outdoors[K]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Good percentage[78].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[3]Simmons. A. E. Growing Unusual Fruit.
A very readable book with information on about 100 species that can be grown in Britain (some in greenhouses) and details on how to grow and use them.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[50]? Flora Europaea
An immense work in 6 volumes (including the index). The standard reference flora for europe, it is very terse though and with very little extra information. Not for the casual reader.
[57]Schery. R. W. Plants for Man.
Fairly readable but not very comprehensive. Deals with plants from around the world.
[59]Thurston. Trees and Shrubs in Cornwall.
Trees and shrubs that succeed in Cornwall based on the authors own observations. Good but rather dated.
[74]Komarov. V. L. Flora of the USSR.
An immense (25 or more large volumes) and not yet completed translation of the Russian flora. Full of information on plant uses and habitats but heavy going for casual readers.
[78]Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.
[89]Polunin. O. and Huxley. A. Flowers of the Mediterranean.
A very readable pocket flora that is well illustrated. Gives some information on plant uses.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[132]Bianchini. F., Corbetta. F. and Pistoia. M. Fruits of the Earth.
Lovely pictures, a very readable book.
[148]Niebuhr. A. D. Herbs of Greece.
A pleasant little book about Greek herbs.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[171]Hill. A. F. Economic Botany.
Not very comprehensive, but it is quite readable and goes into some a bit of detail about the plants it does cover.
[182]Thomas. G. S. Ornamental Shrubs, Climbers and Bamboos.
Contains a wide range of plants with a brief description, mainly of their ornamental value but also usually of cultivation details and varieties.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[188]Brickell. C. The RHS Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers
Excellent range of photographs, some cultivation details but very little information on plant uses.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[209]Chancellor. P. M. Handbook of the Bach Flower Remedies
Details the 38 remedies plus how and where to prescribe them.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
salvador vella Tue Nov 13 2007
just replying to ALX regarding where the fat comes from. It does not come from the soil but from the air. Fat is basically a combination of Carbon , Oxygen, and Hydrogen. Plants manage to use the energy from sunlight to combine these three elements through photosynthesis and therefore the fat actually comes out of thin air and not from the soil. With regard to the previous comment about the irritating habit of announcing that certain plants like the olive "prefer acid, neutral and basic soils" , I agree with Richo but I guess it's just a way of saying that they can manage in all three kinds of soil so that no-one is discouraged from planting an olive tree. However , Richo is right. The comment could easily note that olives grow in all kinds of soil but they perform best in calcareous soils. Moreover, we also know that oil from calcareous regions is much better since acidity in olive oil is counterindicated as a criterion of quality.
Elizabeth H.
graham page Mon Nov 27 2006
I have just planted around 30 bushes, sunny south facing and well drained topsoil ( 9inches going to sandstone. Plants 4 ft high and 4/5 yrs high. This is an experiment, given a farm situation with 15 odd available acres, any advice welcomed I am a novice! Particularly on proppagation, have green house/ tunnel facilities. Thanks Graham Page.
Elizabeth H.
Lorena Thu Feb 22 2007
I brought some seeds, I just want the tree and if I get some seeds to taste one afternoon, that will be great. I am from Panama and have a house in an area very alike where the tree came fron in Crete. Any other suggestion?
Elizabeth H.
Denise Lee Mon Apr 2 2007
Questioning safety of olea europaea olive fruit oil in skin care products?
Elizabeth H.
Richo Cech Thu May 17 2007
I like plants for a future quite a bit, but one thing drives nme crazy--in the physical characteristics field one commonly sees this kind of a comment (pasted from the entry on olive): "The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils." Well, the truth is that they do best in calcerous soils, so why this recommendation for planting in "acid, neutral and basic" soils--this kind of information is less than helpful.
Elizabeth H.
José Gomes Thu Jun 14 2007
In "Phisical Characteristics" it is mentioned that the olive tree flowers in August - September. In fact, in the Mediterrean countries flowers in April - May. Harvest time is November, December and January, depending on climatic conditions.
Elizabeth H.
Alx Mon Oct 1 2007
Hey! I've always wondered where the FAT in the olives (and other fruits such as avocado) origins? Is there enough fat in the SOIL? and if so, who the heck put it there? Thanks in advance, if you know the answer!
Elizabeth H.
wainikiti vosabalavu Sat Jan 19 2008
I live here in Fiji and I use olive oil with my food.I am interested in introducing this wonderful plant in my country here in Fiji.How do I get Seeds from to start planting and I'm sure it will do well in Fiji. Can you please help me out?
Elizabeth H.
Hardy Mon Jun 9 2008
I was wondering about the distance between the trees, for eg. what would be the best area for planting 10 trees? thanx in advance
Elizabeth H.
Joan Mercantini Thu Jul 3 2008
I just read on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database that Olea europea shows One or more in vitro tests on cells show inconclusive, but potentially positive mutation results. How can this be, we use olive oil in cooking every day.
Elizabeth H.
patrick haenggi Tue Oct 28 2008
Hi, I'm looking for a book guidebook about olive trees in general, but particularly information on the care, maintenance, growth etc. Would you have some information? thanks for getting back to me patrick
David N.
Dec 1 2015 12:00AM
I think the olive flowers & flower stems may be edible, I sampled some from some street trees on (only) one occasion, seemed good no detectable harm, seems unlikely they would be toxic given the nature of the rest of the plant. May have been a few small flake-like bits that lingered in the mouth physically a little awkward to deal with. Although it would be strange such a use would go unnoticed in Southern Europe.
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