Olive Trees in Modern Europe

Olive Trees in Modern Europe
To this day, olive oil remains an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is now recognized as being very healthy. Much of the increased demand around the globe for olive oil is partially due to this fact.

Tuscany is about the farthest north that the olive can be grown. The yields in marginal areas aren’t quite as high as elsewhere in Europe due to the climate.

The Mediterranean region still grows at least 50 per cent of the world’s olives, although some sources indicate this could be much higher. Presently, this is centered in Greece, Spain, and Italy. At the present time, Andalusia produces about 90 per cent of Spain’s olive oil. In recent years, this has been over 190 million gallons annually.

During the 21st century, the EU olive oil subsidies appear to be leading olive growers to plant the trees at greater densities and onto marginal land that is unsuited to agriculture. If such policies continue, there are likely to be environmental consequences, such as loss of wildlife habitat, erosion, etc.

In Tuscany, the olive harvest is sometimes done by climbing the trees and raking the fruits from the plant with a plastic rake or comb. Some small olive growers in the area still pay their workers in oil rather than cash. Harvesting machinery for olives is available, but some small growers can’t afford these. In some regions, growers use traditional methods of harvesting. One example is by spreading cloths or tarps underneath the tree and shaking the limbs.

Although the oil from most olive varieties can be quite distinctive, much of the olive oil exported from Europe is a blend of olive oils from different European countries. This approach allows the bottlers to create blends with uniform flavors year after year to suit the specific taste of each country to which it is exported.

Even in modern times Greek olive growers still pray for a good year as they prepare for the olive harvest in the fall. In modern times, the fruit remains one of the country’s main cash crops. Greece is still a leading consumer of olive oil with the highest per capita of consumption worldwide as well as the largest number of trees per resident (with well over a hundred per Greek). Historically, the Greek government gave civil servants time off from work to return to their villages and help out with the olive harvest.

Traditionally, olive oil was used in Europe for various sacred activities. It still has special uses in the Greek Orthodox Church for shrine and sanctuary lamps and for baptisms. Babies are first anointed with olive oil and then baptized with water.

The plant played a role in the 2004 Olympics in Greece. The organizers included an olive wreath on the game’s logo. The road leading to the Olympic stadium was planted with olive trees. Unfortunately, a number of olive groves and individual olive trees were actually destroyed to build the infrastructure needed for the games. Winners that year received an olive garland along with their medals.

Around the beginning of the 21st century, an ancient olive tree estimated to be around 900 years of age was uprooted and moved from its rural home to an urban street in Palma de Mallorca. The tree weighed over 40 tons. As preparation for the move, around 80 per cent of the leaves were removed as well as some of the limbs.

The gnarled tree trunk looked very sculptural. It had only a few limbs remaining. The future of this ancient specimen doesn’t appear favorable for it was planted in a very small, narrow, urban space. In addition, flowers have been planted around the roots of the tree.

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This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.