Herb to Know: Olive Leaf


| October/November 2011



Olive leaf 1

Olive leaf tea can help protect your immune system from colds, flu and chronic fatigue.

Olive leaf extract (Olea europaea) is derived, as you might guess, from the leaves of the olive tree. According to Greek myth, the olive tree was a gift to humankind from the goddess Athena, so she might win a coveted city from Poseidon. Zeus was enchanted by the tree and its ability to heal wounds, cure illness, provide fuel for lamps and nourish the body. The city became Athens, and the tree was one of its most sacred symbols—a person found guilty of destroying one could be exiled or executed.

Olive leaf  
Genus: Olea europaea
• Prefers dry, rocky soil
• Traditionally used to reduce fever
• According to Botanist James A. Duke, Iranians use an olive leaf decoction to cure coughs, while in Algeria, olive leaves are chewed to relieve toothaches.
• Zones 8 to 10

As its Mediterranean origins might suggest, the olive tree is drought-resistant and prefers warm weather, full sun and the dry, limestone-bearing rocky soil characteristic of mountainous coasts. A single tree can live for hundreds or even thousands of years, and most are grown through propagation of limb cuttings. They are rarely taller than 45 feet and many cultivars grow well from cuttings in large containers.

Whether the tree is grown in a pot at home or in a wide plantation field, humanity has found many uses for the olive tree over the 6,000 years of its cultivation, especially for olives and olive oil. The leaves have remained a strong symbol and a promising medicine throughout Western history. 

History and Symbolism of Olive Leaf

The olive tree is perhaps the most often mentioned plant in the Bible—and was important enough that Moses is said to have excluded olive tree growers from military service. Full-leafed olive branches have come to symbolize prosperity and peace in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. Other meanings attached to the leaves include benediction and purification in the gilded crowns of Roman Caesars, chastity in classical depictions of brides, and heavenly power in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Peace remains the most popular association—the branch has appeared on the seal of the United Nations and on British and American coins as a symbol of peace.

Medicinal Uses of Olive Leaf

Olive leaves have been used by traditional Mediterranean medical practitioners for thousands of years, most often in poultices and decoctions to reduce fever and fight infection. The leaves sped wound healing, soothed rashes and were said to cleanse the liver. Some other historic uses include remedies for high blood pressure, high blood sugar and anxiety.





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