I love olive trees and aspen trees. The reason I like these trees is the shimmering of their leaves with a slight breeze. Their leaves are bicolored: green and silver. The underside of the leaves is almost silver color and shines under the sun. With the breeze, the leaves rustle, and you see the rapid switching back and forth of the green and the silver colors which makes the leaves shimmer.
Olive trees and Aspen trees do not coexist. One likes a warm Mediterranean climate and one likes cold climates. I love them both. I mean the trees. They are unique. They are noticeable. They change the landscape from beautiful to gorgeous.
Aspen trees are tall and lean. Aspen tree leaves are more energetic and fresh. You can hear the rustle of the leaves. That is why these trees are also called the Quaking Aspen trees. Their energy helps them keep up with the cold. Aspen trees are deciduous. In the fall, their leaves turn into a bright yellow. In winter, all the aspen tree leaves are gone. Their long trunks reach high into the sky, waiting for their beauty to return. Aspen trees usually do not live more than 150 years. They live life to the fullest and they die early.
I will talk about the Aspen trees in a future blog post. We go to Colorado about once a year. Our daughter and her family live close to Aspen, Colorado. We will be there again at the end of May, and hope to bring more pictures of Aspen trees.
Contrary to the Aspen trees, olive trees are short, sturdy, quiet, and wise. They are not as tall and elegant as the aspen trees. But, they make a statement with their existence. You cannot ignore them. But, they do not bother you like an adolescent asking for attention. Their leaves stay forever. They exist in the warm climates. They root deep. Even if you cut all the branches and just leave the trunk, they come back. They don’t die. They live hundreds of years. They are trustable. They feed you. They take care of you.
I also have a strong tie to the olive trees. My paternal grandmother started our olive grove many years before I was born. I remember going to the olive grove at the end of August, before our return to Ankara, to pick olives.
Here how I describe our olive picking in my book, Pomegranates and Grapes: Landscapes from My Childhood:
“Büyükanne (means grandmother in Turkish) had a full setup in front of our house to extract olive oil. I would go to our orchard with my grandmother, my mother, my brother, and sister along with our donkey. My grandmother would spread sheets under the trees, and with long sticks we would hit the branches and the olives would fall down, all shiny and green, like gems. We would eat our lunch under the trees. Somehow, our olives would be brought in from our orchard. I am not sure how, but perhaps via a borrowed tractor. “
Unfortunately, we were forced to give up our grove to a paper factory which is built right on top of our olive grove. They left a few trees for “decoration”. My grandmother was devastated; she spent the next ten years of her life moaning about her “babies”, her olive trees. The painting shown here, titled “The Olive Orchard” (1889), one of Vincent van Gogh’s fifteen paintings of olive trees, always reminds me of my grandmother, our olive orchard, and my carefree days.
For thousands of years, the olive tree has been the symbol of wisdom, peace, hope (the dove returns to Noah’s ark with an olive branch to announce the end of the flood), light (a source of light as lighting oil), fertility (olive oil is considered to be an aphrodisiac), health and immortality (immortal olive trees), wealth (produces plenty for many many years), and balance (considered to be the tree of balance by the Celts).
I have researched carefully about the origins of olive trees, as I did with my other topics. With the internet, the research gets both easier and harder. One can find many articles in a relatively short time. However, many of these articles just take what is written elsewhere and assume it to be correct. And, when you start reading the same story over and over again, you start to believe in the made-up history. The history sometimes changes with the nationality of the writer. It is becoming almost a game to see who scores the most on the Internet. When I wrote about the history of baklava, I spent days trying to find out the real history and I failed. Similarly, I got lost in the books and the internet pages researching the origins of olive trees.
But, this time, I decided not to quote different stories about the origins of the olive tree. I will just mention a single, great article published by the Royal Society Proceedings B in 2013 about the origins of the olive trees. The abstract of the paper, entitled, The complex history of the olive tree: from Late Quaternary diversification of Mediterranean lineages to primary domestication in the northern Levant, states:
“The location and timing of domestication of the olive tree, a key crop in Early Mediterranean societies, remain hotly debated. Here, we unravel the history of wild olives (oleasters), and then infer the primary origins of the domesticated olive. Phylogeography and Bayesian molecular dating analyses based on plastid genome profiling of 1263 oleasters and 534 cultivated genotypes reveal three main lineages of pre-Quaternary origin. Regional hotspots of plastid diversity, species distribution modelling and macrofossils support the existence of three long-term refugia; namely the Near East (including Cyprus), the Aegean area and the Strait of Gibraltar. These ancestral wild gene pools have provided the essential foundations for cultivated olive breeding. Comparison of the geographical pattern of plastid diversity between wild and cultivated olives indicates the cradle of first domestication in the northern Levant followed by dispersals across the Mediterranean basin in parallel with the expansion of civilizations and human exchanges in this part of the world.”
I don’t think this research will stop anything. I have a feeling that the Mediterranean countries will continue to battle about the origins of the olive trees, the same way they battle about producing the best olives and olive oils in the world. No matter what country it is coming from, if you buy “extra virgin cold-pressed” olive oil, you have a good chance of consuming great oil that is so good for your body. None of them match my grandmother’s own process, but since she is gone, I take any that gives me that unique olive oil aroma.
My grandmother’s process was pure and simple (from “Pomegranates and Grapes: Landscapes from My Childhood“:
“We would spread the olives on the circular stone. After crushing the olives under the giant stone wheel with the aid of our donkey, my grandmother would transfer them to the seven layers of stone pools. Olive oil would drip from one pool to another, getting more purified at each layer. It would come out as this dark greenish yellow oil that was ready to use.”
According to Greek Mythology, Cecrops, the first king of Attica, who is half human and half snake, wants to find a patron deity for the capital city of Attica. He proposes that, this city will be given to the god who presents the most useful gift for humanity. Poseidon, the god of the seas, strikes a rock with his trident and salty water (since he is the god of the seas) gushes out along with a beautiful white horse symbolizing power. Athena strikes her spear into the ground and it turns into an olive tree, as a symbol of peace (olive branch) and prosperity (olive trees for their nourishment, healing properties, and flames from burning olive oil) on earth. Cecrops is very impressed by Athena’s gift. And he chooses Athena as the patron deity of the capital city, and the city is named Athens.
And Cecrops and the people in Athens were right about the olive tree being the most useful gift for humanity. Olives and olive oil provide numerous health benefits.
Many health-related internet sites list numerous benefits of olives (both green and black), olive leaves, and olive oils on our cardiovascular system, respiratory system, nervous system, musculoskeletal system, immune system, digestive system, along with its benefits as natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial medicine.
You can find the in-depth nutrient profile of olives in whfoods.com.
Thank you grandma for giving me the love of nature, good food, and all the beauty comes with living with nature.