History of the Olive Tree and Olive Oil
History of the Olive Tree
According to scientists, the exact place where the olive tree was found for the first time, is the wider Mediterranean area. The first olive cultivation in the world took place in Greece, and more specifically in Crete. This happened around 3500 BC. during the Early Minoan period. In this period the olive tree was in a wilder form than the tree we know today. After 2000 BC olive cultivation in Crete became more intense and systematic, playing the most important role in the island’s economy. From Crete began the first export of olive oil, not only to mainland Greece but also to North Africa and Asia Minor.
History of the Olive Oil
Cultivation soon spread to mainland Greece and the olive and its blessed product, olive oil, became synonymous with the Greek diet over the centuries. The Mycenaean civilization (1600-1150 BC) followed the Minoan in mainland Greece. Olive oil production was very important to the economy of this society. The decipherment of the “Linear B” script brought to light valuable information about the production, trade and export of olive oil in Mycenaean Greece, as we can see in the palace archives of Mycenae and Pylos.
In the 6th BC century, Solon, the great Athenian legislator, drew up the first law to protect the olive tree with the exception of uncontrolled logging. The olive tree was a symbol in ancient Greece and olive oil was used not only for its valuable nutritional value, but also for medicinal purposes. Between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC. ancient philosophers, physicians and historians undertook the botanical classification of the olive and referred to the healing properties of olive oil. It is this knowledge that has been “rediscovered” today as modern scientists find new evidence why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy.
During Byzantine times things did not change. The production of olive oil in the Greek territories was important due to the immense size of the empire. The empire itself comprised almost half of the producing areas in the then known world and the product was exported around the world.
Hippocrates and other ancient physicians used olive oil to treat diseases.
The Olive Tree and Olive Oil production in Greece
Olive cultivation in Greece represents 87,21% of tree crops. Greece is the third olive producing country in the world, after Spain and Italy. Worldwide, Greece is first in the production of black olives and third in the production of olive oil. More than 132 million olive trees are cultivated on its territory, from which approximately 350.000 tons of olive oil are produced annually, of which 82% belongs to the extra virgin category. Also, about 21 million trees are cultivated for the production of table olives.
The Olive Tree and Olive Oil production in Europe
In Europe, olive cultivation occurs in the countries around the Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Albania, Croatia and Greece). Spain is in the last decade the first olive growing country in the world with 200.000.000 olive trees, followed by Italy with 185.000.000 olive trees and Greece with 133.000.000 olive trees.
The Olive Tree and Olive Oil production worldwide
The olive is a historical plant and its cultivation has been done for many centuries both in Greece and in other countries in the world. Today, on all five continents (Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Oceania) we find olive groves. Europe with approximately 500 million trees has more than ¾ of the global production, followed by Asia (Iran, China, S. Arabia, India, Japan, Pakistan and Iraq) with 13%, Africa (South Africa) with 8% and the Americas (USA, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Chile) with 3%. In Oceania (Australia and S. Zealand) the planting of olive trees has recently begun. The establishment of olive trees in the countries of India, Japan, Korea and Pakistan is at an experimental stage, while in China, S. Zealand, Brazil and S. Arabia, olive planting has recently begun. Traditional olive growing countries besides the European ones are the USA, Argentina, Chile, Iran and Iraq.