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Plants of the Qur’an: Olives

By the fig and the olive, by Mount Sinai, by this city of security. Verily, We created man in the best stature. (Surat At-Tin 95: 1-4).

Olives have been mentioned seven times in the Qur’an and their health benefits have been propounded in Prophetic medicine. The Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is reported to have said: Take oil of olive and massage with it – it is a blessed tree. (Darimi, 69:103).

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The olive, like the date, holds great value in ancient and modern culture. In the Mediterranean culture “it has served as everything from money to medicines for several thousand years” (Zwingle, 1999).

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The dove holding an olive branch in its mouth has become a universal symbol of peace. It is said to have originated in the story of Prophet Noh (peace be upon him). The dove appeared as a sign that the flood, which had been sent as a punishment, would abate.

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The oil of this blessed tree has also been cited as a symbol of goodness and purity and is used up to this day in anointing ceremonies in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The cosmetics industry, natural health practitioners and the culinary world are unanimous on the benefits of this delectable fruit, which bursts with flavor and health. The olive industry, which produced 460 million gallons of olive oil in 2000-2001, has grown tremendously as consumers worldwide are alerted to the benefits of this amazing fruit.

Olive Facts

Olea europaea, the botanical name of the olive, has its origins in Asia and spread to the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago. The Mediterranean basin is the chief area of cultivation with Spain, Italy and Greece being the foremost olive-producing countries in the world. Olive production has also expanded to California, South Africa and Australia.

Olive production favors a winter-rainfall pattern. The olive tree is a hardy tree that grows to less than 10 meters. Temperatures below freezing are damaging to the trees. It is an evergreen tree with leaves that are pale green above and silvery below. The bark is pale grey and the flowers are numerous, small and creamy-white in color.

The fruit of the tree is a drupe with fleshy fruit and a hard stone. The color of the fruit varies from green (unripe) to black (ripe) as it passes through its growth stages. As the tree ages, it produces more fruit.

Olives are cultivated through grafting, the method routinely used to propagate fruit trees. The stem or bud of one plant is joined to the stem or bud of another to form a new plant. While it can take more than five years for a tree to start producing fruit, trees can be harvested annually and continue to produce fruits until they become old and hollow.

The manner in which olives are harvested depends on the type of olive, number of trees and the amount of time and money available. Several small-scale producers, often family-operated initiatives, continue to harvest olives by hand.

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