The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean where evidence of humans collecting wild olives dates back around 10,000 years. At some point throughout history, humans started cultivating olive trees. Research suggests the first olive tree plantations were located on the island of Crete about 5,000 years ago. However, olive oil was long in use by this point as a natural beauty product. Evidence of olive oil production in countries all around the Mediterranean.
Uses of Olive Oil
Olive oil has had hundreds of uses throughout history, which shouldn’t come as a surprise for such a versatile and useful ingredient. Besides food, it has been used as medicine, fuel in oil lamps, in soap making and skincare and in religious ceremonies. Much as cocoa was once used as a form of currency, so olive oil was even thought to represent wealth in ancient Minoan society.
Dealing in olive oil was the backbone of the import-export trade in the ancient world. Merchants came from Phoenicia, Crete and Egypt to the Mediterranean basin and even farther, from 600 BC onwards. The Scythians of the southern steppes of Russia came to replenish stocks of olive oil at the prosperous Greek trading posts of the Black Sea which later became the spas of Romania.
A versatile commodity that was important and revered. Especially in natural beauty. The ancient Greeks believed the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena and began using olive oil in their religious rituals. Homer, the immortal Greek poet, called olive oil ‘liquid gold’ and the Greek Laws of Solon (an Athenian statesman), during the 6th to 7th century BC, prohibited the cutting down of olive trees on the punishment of death. The wars over Sicily, which led to the defeat of Carthage by Rome. These were largely motivated by the olive plantations on the island which were coveted by both major powers.
Olive oil was also a valuable medicine in the hands of ancient Greek doctors. Such as skin conditions, wounds and burns, gynaecological ailments, ear infections and many others.
To-day olive oil is best known in cooking. The Mediterranean diet is almost synonymous for olive oil. Already known are the many health inducing properties. Furthermore supermarket shelves have hundreds of olive oil bottles on their shelves. Each containing different brands with different origins and different extraction methods.
Extra virgin olive oil such as Morocco Gold comes from the first pressing of olives and retains the most flavour and aroma. A cheaper brand contains less flavour. The creation of a cheaper brand is chemical based refining and filtering. They have lower nutrient levels as a result.
Olive Oil in Historical Skincare
Olive oil has a long history of being used as a home remedy for skincare. Egyptians used it alongside beeswax as a cleanser, moisturiser, and antibacterial agent since the times of the Pharaohs. Cleopatra was said to use olive oil as a skin treatment, along with her other renowned beauty treatments such as her infamous milk baths and honey facials.
Archaeological finds proving that the Minoans used olive oil in their daily lives are found everywhere in Crete. One particularly impressive discovery is the untouched olives with the flesh preserved. Found at the bottom of a cup sunk in a water cistern at the Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros. Minoans used olive oil in their diet as a cleanser instead of soap. It formed a base for scents and ointments, as a medicine, in tanning, for lighting and to protect delicate surfaces.
Writings of major ancient philosophers and physicians such as Hippocrates, Aristotle, Philostratus, and Lucian were analysed in-depth. This formed part of olive oil research usage by the Ancient Greeks. They found the use of massage, together with olive oil rub, helped to reduce muscle fatigue, to remove lactic acid. This results in less sports injuries through flexibility provided to the skin of athletes. The therapeutic use of oil in the ancient world was fully recognised; and as a result Athenian athlothetes (sponsors of sporting events) provided free oil to all sport facilities where athletes could make free use of it.
Olive oil was also a valuable winner’s prize in Athenian athletic games. The city of Athens needed about 70,000 kilos of oil to reward the winners of the Panathenian Games, held every four years. The winner’s prize varied according to the event. The best runner received about 70 amphoras of 35-40 kilos, i.e. 2,500 kilos of olive oil, while the chariot-race winner got double, i.e. about 5,000 kilos. These prizes were worth a lot of money if you consider that a day’s wages for an Athenian craftsman was 1 Attic drachma, the equivalent of about 3 kilos of olive oil. And that was just the price of common oil, whereas the winner’s oil was much better quality and more expensive. Of course no-one would buy this oil to eat. instead used for anointing the bodies of rich young athletes.
Is Olive Oil Good for the Skin?
Nowadays what many people don’t realise is something that people living in ancient Egypt and Greece took for granted; that extra virgin olive oil, all by itself, is one of the best beauty secrets. Extra virgin olive oil has the added advantage of containing strong antioxidants, making it a natural anti-ageing ingredient. These antioxidants help fight off free radicals which attack cells and speed up the ageing process. All help towards natural beauty.
One of these antioxidants, hydroxytyrosol, is a very rare and extremely potent polyphenol compound. It contains the highest concentrations in the best olive oils. Hydroxytyrosol can play a significant role in the many health benefits attributed to olive oil. Studies have shown very strong anti-inflammatory activity from this compound in high quality extra virgin olive oils.
Also in shampoos, soaps, face powders, salt scrubs and hair conditioners. It is also in lipsticks, brilliantines, anti-wrinkle lotions, moisturisers, eye make-up remover, cuticle & nail treatments and even eyelash oils. Adding oil to your skin can prevent moisture from being lost. The oil traps water beneath it and prevents the loss of water through evaporation. Thereby making your skin feel softer and smoother. For that reason many people use facial oils on top of their moisturisers or serums.