from “The Napoleons’ Buttons, 17 Molecules that Changed History” by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson
Olive oil, a valued trade item for thousand of years, has been called the lifeblood of the societies that developed around the Mediterranean Sea. As well as its obvious role supplying valuable calories as a food, olive oil was used in many other aspects of everyday life; lamps filled with olive oil lit the dark evenings; the oil was used for cosmetic purposes; both the Greeks and the Romans rubbed it into their skin after bathing; athletes would massage their muscles with it before a game . Physicians in Greece prescribed olive oil or some of these blends for numerous ailments,including nausea,cholera,ulcers,and insomnia. even the leaves of the olive tree were used to reduce fevers and provide relief from malaria. These leaves, we now know, contain salicylic acid, the active ingredient of Aspirin.
The importance of olive oil to the people of the Mediterranean is reflected in their writings and even in their laws. The Greek poet Homer called it “liquid gold”. The famous Athenian legislator Solon introduced laws protecting the right of assembly and also laws protecting olive trees. There are more than a hundred references in the Bible. For example: the dove brings an olive sprig back to Noah after the flood, the Good Samaritan pours wine and olive oil into the wounds of the robber’s victim,and the wise virgins keep their lamps filled with olive oil. Virgil praised the olive -“Thus you shall cultivate the rich olive, beloved of Peace.”
With this integration of lore of olives into religion, mythology, and poetry as well as everyday life, it is not surprising that the olive tree came to be the symbol of prosperity and peace for many cultures. The olive tree represented wisdom and renewal as well; olive trees that appeared to have been destroyed by fire or felling often sprouted new shoots and eventually bore fruit again. The tree is remarkably hardy: can survive drought and extreme frost and can grow in rocky soil and on stony terraces. Little wonder that the people who were dependent on the olive tree for thousand of years came to venerate it.