The Olive is a low-growing, fruit bearing tree native to the Middle East and Mediterranean Basin, but found throughout Central Asia as far as China and naturalised as far away as California. These trees are best known for their economically valuable fruit, which as well as being edible produces an oil which was the mainstay of several historical economies and remains valuable into the modern era.
Olive fruits (olives) can either be consumed ripe ("black olives"), or unripe ("green olives") although the unripe variety are extremely bitter until cured with salt or a strong alkali (usually lye). Both kinds, in various proportions, are significant contributors to the human diet across the olive's home range.
The oil is gathered by crushing the ripe fruit - the best is considered to come from the first pressing of a given crop, with some varities of olives yielding better oil than others. After the first crop of oil has been extracted, the resulting pulp with then generally be compiled and re-pressed several times, yielding lower grades of oil each time and when pressing yields no more oil, a further crop can be obtained by boiling the pulp in water and skimming oil from the top of the resulting soup. Once obtained, the oil may be filtered for cosmetic purposes or used as-is, with a given content of solids. The best oil is used in cosmetics, medicines and with food as a condiment (e.g. as a salad dressing or for dipping bread), as a frying medium or as an ingredient. Food may also be preserved in olive oil. Lower grades are used as lamp oil and as lubricants. Historically, the oil was also used for personal hygiene - the Romans are particularly known for covering themselves in oil and then scraping it off to remove dirt.
Used olive pressings have traditionally been used to feed livestock and/or as fuel for fires (including ceramics kilns).
Due to the importance of the fruit and the small size of the trees, olive wood is not much used for carpentry, but where it is available, it serves as well as any other dense hardwood.
The olive also had a certain religious significance to a lot of its users - to the Greeks, it was the gift of the olive tree that won Athena the role of Patron Goddess of Athens and Judaism and Christianity both make extensive use of olive-oil for ritual annointing.
A branch or sprig of olive leaves, traditionally carried by a dove, is a traditional symbol of peace in Western culture, probably having its roots in the story of Noah. In the classical world, olive branches were more closely related to victory (which has its own associations with peace), being waved in triumphal processions and fashioned into crowns for victorious Olympians. Crowns of olive were also frequently worn by brides - these associations are all likely to derivce from the massive economic utility of the plant.
Game and Story Use
- In any classical era campaign in the appropriate era, this will be ubiquitous - and only slightly less common into the modern era.