Olive Oil Uses Throughout The Ages

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Benefits, History & Culture

Olive Oil Culture: The Wisdom Of The Ancient World

Olive oil has long been considered sacred. The olive branch was often a symbol of abundance, glory, and peace. Over the years, the olive has also been used to symbolize wisdom, fertility, power, and purity.

Olive oil was used for not only food and cooking, but also lighting, sacrificial offerings, ointment, and ceremonial anointment for priestly or royal office.

The leafy branches of the olive tree were ritually offered to deities and powerful figures as emblems of benediction and purification, and they were used to crown the victors of friendly games and bloody wars.

Biblical References

The olive tree is one of the first plants mentioned in the Christian Old Testament, and one of the most significant. An olive branch was brought back to Noah by a dove to demonstrate that the flood was over.

Olive oil was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples and fuelled the “eternal flame” of the original Olympic games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves.

In ancient battles, olive branches were used to crown the victors. Greek soldiers are said to have rubbed olive oil into their bodies for grooming and good health as well as using it in their lamps for lighting.

The Spartans buried their dead on a bed of olive twigs to protect their souls. The olive tree was also used to protect the living, with those who attended funerals wearing crowns of olive branches to guard themselves against evil.

Legend has it that Poseidon, the sea god, and Athena, goddess of wisdom, competed to find the gift that would be most valuable to humankind. Poseidon offered the horse and Athena the olive tree. Because of its many uses, the provision of heat, food, medicine and perfume, the olive tree was chosen as the most valuable and in return for Athena’s contribution, the most powerful city in Greece was named Athens in her honour.

In Greece 500 B.C, olive oil’s revered status was further confirmed by an image of the goddess Athena, with her head crowned with olive oil, imprinted onto the Drachma, the Greek coin. At the time, the Drachma was the Mediterranean’s most circulated currency.

Ancient Rome

According to Pliny the Elder, a vine, a fig tree, and an olive tree grew in the middle of the Roman Forum; the latter was planted to provide shade.

Soaps were not around in the times of the Roman Empire. Instead when Romans went to bathe they rubbed olive oil all over their bodies and then scraped it off with a strigil, carrying away all the dirt and grime with it and leaving the skin silky and moisturized.

In richer patrician households, olive oil was often scented like a perfume, which would leave behind a sweet smell after it was gone. Like now, they would even pour some olive oil into their private baths to relax in them, to soften their skin and relax with some good aromatherapy.

While working out and in official competitions, athletes would rub olive oil all over their skin to make it more slick and smooth. One could also imagine how pleasing this look was to the crowd’s eye in an age where physical perfection of the body was praised and immortalized in statues.


In Rome, olive oil was used for nearly everything in relation to their health. Roman medicine takes heavily from Greek doctors, who influenced European medicine for centuries, and Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine writes about over 60 different conditions or ailments that can be treated with olive oil, including skin problems, burns and wounds, ear infections, gynecological problems, healing surgical scars, and much more. As olive oil culture is embedded within the fabric of society many uses of olive oil are used as home remedies today.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

Hippocrates : father of modern medicine

The Roman doctor Galen, who was born in Greece, was also credited with the invention of cold cream, using olive oil as his base for in instead of the modern day mineral oil. It has been in used for over a thousand years for soothing skin and relieving sunburns.

Olive Oil Culture & Islam

The olive tree and olive oil are mentioned seven times in the Quran, and the olive is praised as a precious fruit. Olive trees and olive-oil health benefits have been propounded in Prophetic medicine. The Prophet is reported to have said: “Take olive oil and massage with it – it is a blessed tree”

Olive Oil As A Cure

Early Middle Eastern civilisations relied on Olive Oil to cure everything. To this day, many in the region drink olive oil daily to keep the body running efficiently. Warm olive oil is commonly used in the west to soothe earache.

Olive Oil Culture : Ancient Wisdom That Lives On

Olive oil was believed to bestow strength and youth, not least because of the tree’s longevity and its tremendous resilience. Even through the harshest summers and winters they continue to grow strong and bear fruit

The olive branch continues to be the symbol of peace. “If politics divide men, then good food brings them back together. In a world that finds it difficult to identify with the core values of human rights, sustainable development and peace, cooking remains a shared, every-day, and universal value.” Michael Moller, Director-General of the United Nations.

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