Olives –Good for Mind & Body

Olives are an important part of my daily diet. I love to eat them (in huge quantities) and I use their oil for cooking. In fact, I love them so much, you could say I’m obsessed. So, naturally, I was very excited to get down and dirty with an actual olive harvest recently, courtesy of a dear friend of mine has moved to Spain and bought an off-grid finca.

Now her life revolves around tending her animals and harvesting her carob, almond and olive trees, and I was thrilled to have been there to help harvest the olives, taking part in a physical process that I also found to be mindful and magical. Even the history of Olea Europaea, the olive tree, rooted as it is in humanity, is fascinating. It is one of the oldest cultivated trees in the world, with one living specimen, located in the north of Lebanon, thought to date back to 4000 BC. Traditionally a symbol of peace, wisdom and immortality, the olive tree were first mentioned in the Bible when God sent Noah a white dove holding a twig to tell him that the flood was over. We also know from the Bible that olive oil was used to anoint the head and body after a bath, to light lamps and of course to season food. That’s a long history.

But back to the present and my role as a picker, lowly but fortunately removed from the stresses of deciding the important things, like what olive variety, what trees and when (timing is critical – ideally you pick and press in one day) and which mill to use – is it clean and what will they charge. And all the time not forgetting that there is a deadline to work to, as there is an allocated time-slot for your pressing.

Care is needed not to damage the olives, which are stripped with a special rake and collected in nets. It’s a very physical process with all the bending, stretching, shifting and lifting for hours on end. But it’s also quite theatrical – dressing the trees with nets and watching them fill up with a glorious mix of shiny black and green olives, some with the leaves still attached. Then, after the harvesting and pressing, we sampled our oil with a spoon, and it was good enough to drink – delicious.  What a wonderfully satisfying experience for my mind and body. To be involved in such a process from start to finish removes the drudgery from the hard work and transforms it into an experience that puts you back in touch with Earth’s life-cycle.

I think on this when I dress a salad. And I take satisfaction in knowing that the olive and its oil are the basis of the famously healthy Mediterranean diet, the benefits of which include

  • Cardiovascular health. Its antioxidants protect against numerous diseases and lower cholesterol, which can reduce hypertension.
  • Anti-inflammatory. It contains more than 24 anti-inflammatory nutrients.
  • Cancer prevention. It can lower risk again certain types of cancer, such as breast, respiratory tract, upper digestion tract and colorectal.
  • Diabetes. It is full of monounsaturated fats (the good ones) that help protect against type 2 diabetes.
  • Digestion. It promotes feeling of fullness, reduces IBS and inflammation.
  • Brain function. Studies show improved visual memory and verbal fluency in older adults with ‘intensive use’ of olive oil.

And when we aren’t consuming the oil, we can use it to protect, nourish and hydrate our skin and hair as it is a rich source of carotenoids and of vitamins E and K.

No wonder I have a healthy appetite for olives: at last, something I love that is good for me in so many ways!