Olea europaea (Olive)
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Olives on tree, Houwhoek, Western Cape. [photo H.
Olives stones have been found in archaeological sites
dating as far back as 9000 BC, although only from about 3500 BC is there clear
evidence of domestication (in the Mediterranean region). In order to make olives
palatible, they need to be soaked in alkali liquid to extract a bitter glucoside
The name Olea europaea applies to both the wild and
domestic Olive. The wild Olive or Oleaster has a disjunct distribution in the
Mediterranean region, the near East and down to South Africa. Evidence of olive
stones from archaeological sites in the Near East and Cyprus suggest that olives
have been consumed since about 9000 BC although it is only from 3500 BC that
there is clear evidence of domestication. Consumption of olives is not
straightforward because they contain a bitter glucoside which is removed by
soaking them in alkali liquids and pickling them in brine. Olives are most
commonly linked to Greece and this country has a long tradition of olive
cultivation and utilisation. By 1300 BC, Greek palaces had rooms devoted to
storing jars full of olive oil.
Olive cultivars are normally propagated vegetatively
either through rooting of cuttings or by grafting onto rootstocks. An olive tree
can live for hundreds of years and with vegetative propagation used so
extensively, many cultivars have remained little changed over thousands of
Although the primary area of Olive cultivation still lies
in the Mediterranean region, Olives are also cultivated in other parts of the
world such as California and South Africa.
Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of
crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.