Olive leaves, besides holding significant cultural symbolism, are rich in beneficial properties. Olive trees themselves have a deeply rooted history. The varieties we cultivate today stem from Olea Europea, a result of selective cultivation that began approximately 6000 years ago. The first to domesticate the olive tree were Syrian and Palestinian farmers. They transformed the wild Olea sylvestris, with its small drupes and thorny branches, into plants bearing oil-rich, spineless fruits. Since then, this plant has become a staple food in Mediterranean countries and also finds extensive use in herbal medicine.
In this article, we will focus on the properties of olive tree leaves and explore how to prepare an extract from them. Modern scientific studies have shown that these leaves are a significant resource in pathophysiology. Some studies indicate their potential in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes. Let’s learn how to harness the power of these leaves.
A Brief History of Olive Tree Spread
Olive trees arrived in the Mediterranean basin, specifically Egypt, after the Asian invasions around the 17th century B.C. In Mediterranean countries, the cultivation of the olive tree went hand in hand with that of the vine. Intensive production began around the 8th century B.C., led by the Greeks. For them, it was a sacred tree, born thanks to the goddess Athena, and the invention of oil was credited to the deity Aristaeus.
From Greece, the olive tree began to spread, and we have evidence of oil trade with Sicily, Magna Graecia, and Gaul.
Naturally, the plant also reached the heart of the Roman Empire and is frequently mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia.
The grandeur of its use is evident in the excavations of Pompeii. Magnificent silver vessels engraved with olive branches were unearthed here.
Additionally, the Bible often speaks of this tree. The ancient Hebrew people used it to prepare compounds for anointing.
This is the ancient history. In more modern times, the olive tree was exported to South America by the Spaniards in 1560, specifically to Peru. The plant arrived in the United States around 1850, brought by Spanish missionaries. In Argentina, it came thanks to Italian immigrants in the early 1900s.
Attempts to naturalize it in Australia, however, were not successful.
Today, there are approximately 800 million olive trees in the world, with the majority thriving in the Mediterranean region.
This plant is considered the tree of life. The French call it arbre eternel, as, under the right conditions, it can live up to a thousand years!
Olive Leaves: Characteristics
The unique and precious characteristics of olive leaves are manifold. One of the most basic yet crucial features is the ease of accessibility. The olive tree is an evergreen with continuous vegetative activity that only slows down in winter. Leaves are born and live within a span of two years, generated from woody buds continuously produced by new branches.
These leaves grow opposite each other on branches, have an elliptical shape, leathery texture, and a short stem. Their underside is silver-white, while the upper side is green, particularly bright in young leaves.
Throughout the year, the olive tree undergoes two main agricultural operations: pruning and harvesting.
During pruning, branches are cut. During harvesting, the beating process yields a significant amount of foliage. This foliage is discarded and, if desired, can be used for compost. Therefore, leaves are readily available in both cases.
We recommend, if you intend to use these leaves for handmade preparations, not to use those from trees treated with chemical products. Leaves treated with copper, such as those affected by peacock spot disease, cannot be used, even though the use of the product is allowed, within certain limits, in organic farming.
Properties of Olive Leaves
Olive leaves contain various substances and elements capable of benefiting us. Among these is oleuropein, a polyphenol of high pharmacological interest. One of the main effects of olive leaf extract is to lower blood pressure without causing secondary effects on respiration. This is because vasodilation is muscular. The myolytic action of the substances in the leaves directly affects the coronary arteries, making the extract suitable even where a hypotensive state might worsen potential heart issues. These leaves are also excellent natural vascular and coronary protectors. Specific benefits are seen in treating hypertension caused by menopause or atherosclerosis. Another property is hypoglycemic, useful for reducing glucose levels in individuals with diabetes. It is also beneficial in cases of hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, hyperlipidemia, and hypertriglyceridemia. Extracts from olive tree leaves also have a decent diuretic effect, ideal for reducing water retention, and function as febrifuges. They contain numerous bitter substances, so the taste might not be very pleasant. However, they have an energizing effect, providing relief in cases of fatigue and asthenia. In summary, they are a genuine natural pharmacy at your fingertips. Finally, there have been no reports of intolerance or unwanted side effects.
Homemade Olive Leaf Extract
To prepare an extract at home, we recommend making a decoction. You’ll need about 150 fresh olive leaves (half if they are dry) for every liter of water. Wash the leaves thoroughly to remove dirt and dust, perhaps using some baking soda. In a large pot, place the leaves with water and bring to a boil. When the water boils, turn off the heat, cover, and let it steep for 30 minutes.
Afterward, strain out the leaves and store the obtained extract in glass bottles to keep in the refrigerator. Olive leaf extract should be consumed in small quantities away from meals, even two or three times a day.
If you prefer not to make it yourself, there are several alternatives available in the market. Many commercial products exist: capsules, supplements, liquid extracts. Each of these can be used according to your needs (and you can find them here).
Lastly, if you intend to use olive leaf phytotherapy to treat medical conditions, it is advisable to consult your general practitioner, especially if you are taking medications.