The Olive

The olive tree is the symbol of plenty, justice, peace, victory, wisdom, and rebirth.

It grows slowly, like a human. Seed, sprout, then sapling, it matures, shunning shade and moisture, and keeps its silvery grey-green leaves year round. It loves the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the South. In spring it produces tiny, delicate yellow and white blossoms with a light scent all their own. The flowers turn into fruit, growing larger and maturing towards summer’s end. Autumn is harvest time. After a long a productive life, the body withers, but new shoots spring green from the roots, becoming a new tree.
There are said to be two trees in Paradise: the fig and the olive. The fig is the ‘Tree of Truth’, the olive the ‘Tree of Life’. As in the oldest known reference in Latin to the olive, which is also mentioned in the Old and New Testaments as well as the Quran: “Oles prima arborum omnium est” (The olive is first among all trees). The olive tree, symbol of holiness, plenty, justice, health, pride, victory, prosperity, wisdom, intelligence, purity, and rebirth—all the important human virtues.

Of different tastes and colors, and with the golden yellow oil extracted from its fruit, the olive is without a doubt ‘an immortal tree’ that pops up in symbols, myths, legends and even true stories out of the past over a broad geography encompassing many religions and civilizations. There’s no doubt about it, the olive is a miracle. Forks, spoons and plates are made from its wood; from its fruit, which graces the table in many different colors, myriad kinds of oil are extracted by different processes, some of them used to make beauty soaps and shampoos; prayer beads, bracelets, and necklaces are fashioned from its seeds; its pulp is used as fertilizer or burned as fuel; its oil once lit lamps and, heated boiling hot, even became a weapon. In other words, from fruit to seed to leaf, every part of the olive tree is good for something and nothing is thrown away.

The more than thousand-year-old story of the olive tree in human history continues today in myths, legends, poems, novels and paintings, in short as part of life itself. Let us go a little closer now and get to know this tree on its own ground. It is written in the literature that it comes from the ‘Oleaceae’ family. Dubbed ‘the rich tree of poor soil’, the olive adapts easily to the climatic conditions of its environment, sending down roots to varying depths depending on the soil structure. The olive tree grows slowly, taking
15-20 years from planting to reach full growth. Its mature, productive life ranges from 30 to 150 years until it finally embarks on an ageing process that can last hundreds of years. A year in the life of the olive tree is determined by the characteristics of the Mediterranean climate. During winter, from November to February, it is dormant and rests. In spring, between March and April, it awakens and its branches sprout shoots. Between April and June it blooms and its pleasant-smelling pollen is wafted from tree to tree on the wind. Come July and August its fruit grows larger and the seeds harden. Between September and October the olives mature and reach their required size, which varies, as does their shape, depending on the variety. When the olives turn from green to purple, and the dark pink ones blacken, the oil begins to develop. Harvest time is from September to February. The olive trees are shaken, either with a pole or by a machine, and the olives that fall to the ground gathered by hand.
There is still no agreement today among historians, archaeologists and archaeobotanists as to exactly where and how many thousands of years ago the olive tree, whose roots go back to pre-history, originated. It is believed however that the miracle of domesticating the olive, but not the place where the wild olive
first appeared, was among the Semitic peoples. When seeking answers to questions of who, where and when, it’s always best to consult the scientists. And José M. Blazquez, author of the internationally respected World Olive Encyclopedia, tells us that “cultivation of olives commenced approximately six thousand years ago in Anatolia.”

Approximately three percent of farmland in Turkey consists of olive groves. According to figures published by the Turkish Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 140 million olive trees in Turkey. Eighty percent of the olives grown are used for oil, the other twenty percent for eating. The Aegean region ranks first in olive production, followed by the Mediterranean and the Marmara regions. Lower down the list by production figures are such regions as Gaziantep (Nizip), Kilis, Mardin (Derik) and Artvin (Yusufeli-Demirkent), little known in Turkey for their olives but where olives are nevertheless grown and processed. Internationally recognized, prize-winning virgin olive oil is produced, albeit in small amounts, from the unusually tall olive trees at Demirkent and from the trees in Mardin’s Derik township, each of which produces fruit of a different color.
Turkey ranks second in the world in the production of eating olives and fourth in olive oil production. The country hopes to become the world second in oil production within five years following a recent planting campaign. Close to half of the eating olives consumed in the European Union come from Turkey. With its many vital by-products, the olive and olive oil sector in Turkey occupies a major place in the country’s industry, trade and agriculture. At the same time it is a significant source of employment, providing a livelihood to some 500 thousand families and jobs for 8 to 10 million people.

Turkish olives and olive oil, which are being grown and produced organically in line with foreign demand and harmonization with international standards, occupy a respected place in the foreign market. High quality virgin olive oils from Ayvalık and the Bay of Edremit are in great demand even in Italy. According to the figures of the Assembly of Exporters of Turkey, the highest rate of export growth in 2005 was in exports of olives and olive oil at over 500%. Besides the large family firms that have been in the business for years, there are also other smaller firms with a certain reputation despite limited ‘boutique production’. The olives and olive oil of these firms, which are becoming better known worldwide thanks to an effective marketing strategy, simultaneously contribute to the promotion of Turkey and Turkish products. When we read from its gnarled trunk the history of this ‘tree of life’ that gives us vital energy, or hug an olive tree, each one of which is like a different person, we realize that we possess the most valued gift in the world.