Olives and olive oil have been a part of human diet for a very long time. Olives can be eaten green or ripe. They can be pickled, or the oil can be expressed from them to use in cooking or in cosmetics.
Olive oil is considered to be one of the healthiest oils to use as salad dressing or in cooking. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, the kind that is good for you. It is not associated with weight gain, high cholesterol or the accumulation of plaque on the inside of your veins. In fact, it is thought that it might even help remove plaque.
Olive oil can be used to moisturize skin and to treat damaged, dry hair. It has even been used as a hair straightener or as a pomade.
Preparing Olives for Use
With all that said, olives are not a fruit you can walk into the back yard, pick off the tree, and pop into your mouth. They have to be processed before they can be eaten. This is usually done by pickling them, either in a brine or in vinegar.
To extract the oil, the olives are first cleaned and washed. Then, with the pits still in them, they are ground into a paste. The paste is spread on large drums and then pressure is applied to squeeze out the liquid.
The mixture that is squeezed out using the press is then allowed to stand for about an hour so that the oil and the juice will separate. The oil can then be separated out and bottled.
In modern factories, this process is facilitated by using a centrifuge.
Grades of Olive Oil
The first pressing of oil, providing the oil is kept cool enough, is the extra virgin olive oil. Or, in other words, the really good stuff. Just plain virgin olive oil uses slightly riper olives or olives of lesser quality. It is still good oil, and is perfectly serviceable for most applications. Next is just olive oil, still good for cooking or similar purposes, but not as good a quality as the first two. The last grade of cooking oil is pomace, which is primarily used for deep frying and similar purposes.
At this point, we are not quite finished with that oil pressing. The very lowest grade of olive oil is lampante or strong oil, which is primarily used commercially. Perhaps this is what the temple virgins of Biblical fame used in their lamps.
Now, that’s a lot of use for one little green or black berry and all its kith and kin.
Olive oil is one of the better vegetable-based oils, and an excellent plant for do-it-yourself or back to the land modern homesteaders. The only thing is, olive trees don’t grow just anywhere.
Growing Olive Trees
Olives like cool winters, but not too cold. They like warm summers, but not too warm, with a reasonable amount of rainfall. If rain isn’t available, the trees have to be irrigated.
As it happens, olive trees really like the South Australia. In fact, they like it so much that the trees have even become a sort of weed in some areas. The solution? Harvest vigorously so there are very few seeds for the birds to spread about, and keep them trimmed. That helps to keep the olives from spreading into areas where they are unwanted.
With that said, olive trees make good shade trees, as long as you keep them picked and the fruit cleaned up from beneath them. Because of their high, water content, olive trees are somewhat resistant to wildfires. In Portugal, where they grow naturally, and in Southern France, planting swathes of olive trees as a fire deterrent was discussed. Portugal, like Australia, has a good many eucalyptus trees. Because of their high oil content, eucalyptus trees burn readily. In Portugal and France, it was hoped that by cutting fire breaks through the forests and interspersing more flammable growth with wide bands of olive trees, that wildfires could be deterred.
Would this work in Australia? It might be difficult to achieve. Australia has a much drier climate and eucalyptus trees are native to the continent, whereas olives trees are not.
Olive Trees are Beautiful and Valuable
Fire retardant or not, olive trees bear a fruit that can be made into many delicious foods. They are also beautiful trees that create good windbreaks. In the UK, olive trees can be grown in pots in an unheated conservatory or on a sheltered balcony or patio.