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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    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Frost Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Olea europaea Olive, African olive,  European olive

Olea europaea Olive, African olive,  European olive


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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.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 8. It is in leaf all year, in flower from August to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is 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: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

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].

References   More on Edible Uses

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  Malaria  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].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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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].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Espalier

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Global Crop  Other Systems: Irreg. Intercrop  Other Systems: Strip intercrop  Other Systems: Woody agriculture  Staple Crop: Oil

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.

Carbon Farming

  • Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world. The annual value of each is more than $1 billion US Examples include coconuts, almonds, and bananas.
  • Other Systems: Irreg. Intercrop  Irregular intercropping systems are trees scattered throughout cropland.
  • Other Systems: Strip intercrop  Tree crops grown in rows with alternating annual crops.
  • Other Systems: Woody agriculture  Domesticated woody plants intensively producing agricultural staples.
  • Staple Crop: Oil  (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

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].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

TEMPERATE ASIA: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen,Saudi Arabia. EUROPE: Former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece (incl. Crete), Italy (incl. Sardinia, Sicily), Spain (incl. Baleares), France (incl. Corsica), Portugal, AFRICA: Spain, Canarias, Portugal, Madeira Islands, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

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.

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.

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?

Denise Lee   Mon Apr 2 2007

Questioning safety of olea europaea olive fruit oil in skin care products?

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.

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.

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!

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?

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

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.

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

   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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