all about olive, part 1

As some of you may know, I am slowly — glacially, even — working on a book about gardening with medicinal plants. Looking out at the frost-covered garden this morning for inspiration for any  hint of green, I decided to start working on my olive (Olea europa) monograph. 


Arbequina olive (Olea europea) in flower.

Before my breakfast (which includes copious quantities of olive oil — yum!), I went looking through my physical library for something beyond olive oil. Because, really, I’m unlikely to actually press the olives from my tree. And besides, like so many other garden medicines, there’s healing value in other parts.


In olive’s case, the leaves are powerhouses of phytochemicals including oleuropein, oleanolic acid and hydroxytyrosol. Researchers are finding these compounds help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, “bad” cholesterol — and even cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Better still, olive-leaf extracts appear safe in therapeutic doses.


As with all herbal medicines, olive leaves contain a complex of phytochemicals that have a combined, or synergistic, effect on health. It’s almost never just one compound doing all the heavy lifting. Oleuropein is the most-studied of the olive-leaf constituents, but many studies are looking beyond the single compound, and several studies are designed using the whole leaf.


What’s striking as I look at this evolving body of research on top of clinical practice is how olive exemplifies the concept of treating the cause rather than the symptoms. We all know olive oil is an important part of any healthy diet. The leaves fight several chronic diseases by moderating inflammation, relaxing the arteries in high blood pressure, increasing insulin sensitivity to balance blood sugar, and protecting the brain from oxidative stress that can lead to degeneration. Olive leaves support the body’s processes rather than suppressing them, and in so doing make the whole interior ecosystem function more effectively. That means health.


That’s today’s news on olive. I’ll keep you posted as my research progresses.