As the oldest and the holiest tree in the world, Thomas Jefferson praised it as, “The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven”. The olive tree has always been a symbol of health, healing and happiness. Known throughout history as a beneficial source, the olive tree has been a historical emblem of peace, power and prosperity. The legends surrounding the olive tree go baolive oilck to ancient Greece when the goddess Athena and Poseidon, the god of the seas, had contested for the patronage of Attica. Poseidon threw down his spear and a horse sprang up from the ground. Athena planted an olive tree among the rocks of Acropolis and an olive tree sprouted. Athena became the patron of Attica for the olive tree represented fertility with the ‘power to illuminate the darkness, heal, and provide nourishment’. The olive tree has been mentioned throughout the Holy Bible as a natural healer with its oil, leaf and fruit.
The olive tree was discovered over 5,000 years ago and taken to America in the 15th century. Moses also knew of the value of this tree as he excused young cultivators of olive trees from joining the army. Right from the ancient days, olive oil was used to light the sacred lamps in temples and in Mediterranean homes besides being used as an ingredient in recipes. The olive tree was found in Asia Minor and its cultivation spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the Mediterranean basin about 6,000 years ago. The Greek Olympic winners were crowned with a wreath of olive leaves. The powerful, the learned and the famous Homer, Herodotus, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle and Caeser praised the olive tree. The beneficial olive tree with its silvery green leaves is grown in Mediterranean lands, Southern Russia, Chile, Peru, South Australia and California and the Middle East. The olive tree is so old, that it existed even before people learned to communicate. The wealth of the Minoan empire was based on the olive tree. The Phoenician traders took the olive plant to the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Southern Europe. The Greeks and Romans spread the olive culture to the horizons of their conquests.
Olive trees usually grow in climatic conditions in places with warm dry summers and rainy winters. A plentiful harvest is brought about in habitats with sun, stony soil, solitude and silent places according to Italian tradition. Italy, Spain and Greece are the leading producers of olive oil. There are about thirty varieties of olives in Italy with its own particular oil with unique characteristics. When ripe the olives are hand picked and then pressed extracting a flavorful, monounsaturated oil used throughout the globe for cooking and in salads. The flavor, color and fragrance of olives are different from each other according to the region where they are produced. Olive oils are graded on the levels of acidity that they contain. The cold pressed process is the best as it produces a natural level of low acidity. Extra virgin olive oil is the result of the cold press process being the finest and the fruitiest of olive oil having only one percent acid and also the most expensive. Extra virgin olive oil can range from a crystalline champagne color to greenish-golden to bright green with the fact that the deeper the color, the more intense the flavor. Extra-virgin olive oil is produced in all regions of Italy, except Piedmont and Val D’Aosta. The leading producers are Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, and Apulia.
The process of the producing of olive oil begins with the harvesting and transferring to the mill. Then the leaves are sucked away with air fans and the olives are washed with water. The stone mill and cold pressing technique is used for the extraction of extra virgin olive oils. The first step in the extraction is crushing the olives to form a paste. The oil which is 20% to 30% of the olive is within the fruit’s cells. The olives are crushed in a mill with two granite millstones rolling in a metal basin. Crushing and mixing the olives releases the oil from the cells of the olive without heating the paste. A side shutter on the mill’s basin allows the mixed olive paste to be discharged and applied to round mats. The mats are stacked and placed under the head of a hydraulic press frame that applies downward pressure and extracts the oil. The first pressing yields the superior quality oil, and the second and third pressings produce inferior quality oil.
This form of the oil contains “polyphenols”, substances that have been found to be powerful antioxidants which protect against certain diseases. The polyphenols with health-promoting effects have more unique qualities than other oils. The olive oil is then pumped into a separator to separate the oil from the water and small solid particles. During the process, the temperature must be maintained between 16-28 degrees Celsius to prevent thermal deterioration of the oil. The pressed extra virgin olive oil has high quality standards and organoleptic characteristics which is protective and aromatic. With the best and the finest being extra virgin olive oil, the other oils are called Virgin olive oil, Fino Olive oil, Olive oil and Light olive oil. Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months or it can be refrigerated and will last up to a year. Chilled olive oil becomes cloudy and too thick to pour unless brought to room temperature. Olive oil has been considered both a food and a medicine.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recommended the juices of fresh olives as a cure for mental illness and poultices of macerated olives for ulcers. In the Middle Ages, it was used to treat gynecological complaints and in the Mediterranean country side it was used as a treatment for ear aches, as a purgative even for children, for stomach aches, gastritis, gastro duodenal ulcers and to soften calluses. Olive oil has a healing effect on atrophy of the gallbladder and prevents hepatobiliary secretion during gallbladder emptying time. Holding the attributes of an antioxidant similar to the disease fighting properties of tea and red wine, olive oil also lowers the LDL cholesterol which clogs arteries. Extra virgin olive oil is easily digestible among all the edible fats, thereby absorbing vitamins A, D and K. Olive oil has the important components of essential acids that are not in our own bodies. One of its miraculous properties is the fact that it slows down the aging process. Olive oil also helps and improves bile, liver and intestinal functions. Used in cooking, olive oil has been known for its organoleptic attributes in its flavor, bouquet and aroma.
With more than meets the eye, olive oil was guarded as a precious commodity during the ancient times of King Solomon and King David. Guarded at all times, the olive groves and warehouses containing oil, in the land of the Hebrews were ensured protection at all times. In ancient Greece, olive trees were considered so sacred that people who cut olive trees down were either exiled or condemned to death. Ships were especially designed to transport olive oil from Greece and Rome to trading outlets around the Mediterranean. Olive oil was used as a medicine and as a cosmetic. Excavated from ancient caves, fossilized remains of old timeless olive trees were found near Livorno, in Italy, dating from twenty million years ago. The belief that olive oil was associated with eternal youth in ancient times in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, saw the making of ointments with a fusion of flowers and aromatic grasses.
Homer called it “liquid gold.” Greek atheletes rubbed it into their skin. Olive oil was dropped in tiny droplets into the tombs of dead saints and martyrs. Fascinating with a timeless eternal glow, olive oil has been the elixir of youth, healing and power. The olive leaf was even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Considered as a symbol of peace, the olive leaf has crowned the heads of victorious winners besides being extended as a symbol of a new life and used in anointing as a holy oil. The olive tree has offered its wood, oils and its groves as a scenic view to bring a new hope for mankind as the Tree of Life.
Villa Pandolfini is known as being the place where Agnolo di Filippo, a dear friend of the Medici, wrote his Treatise on the governing of the family. He later died there in 1446 at the age of 86, his body being buried in the church of San Martino in Gangalandi.