Olives are one of the most ancient and healthy foods that humanity has ever come into contact with – no exaggerations here! A staple of the Mediterranean diet, olives have been consumed by humans since before there was written language or recorded history.
Olive trees originated from parts of Asia and were introduced to the Mediterranean regions from Iran, Syria, and Palestine around 6000 years ago. The presence of olive trees on Crete has been dated back to 3000 BCE, and they may have contributed to the prosperity of the Minoan Kingdom. Additionally, olive trees have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 2000 BCE.
The Medicinal Benefits of Olives
From being a staple food in homes to having medicinal benefits, olives have immense uses. The oil from this savory fruit has traditionally been used to prevent constipation, assist in the “cleansing” of the gallbladder, and used to treat various skin ailments such as burns, scratches, and sunburn. Another medical benefit of olive oil relates to maintaining a healthy digestive system. Oxford University’s Institute of Health found that “olive oil may have a protective effect on the development of colorectal cancer”.
The leaf of the olive tree is commonly used by herbalists for its antiviral properties. It has been traditionally used to cool fevers by boiling the leaves and concocting a tincture that is then taken orally. Olive leaf was not only used to treat severe cases of fever but tropical diseases such as malaria as well. Today, olive leaf extract is available from natural health practitioners and is taken orally in tablet form.
Olives in the Quran and Hadith
The word olive is mentioned six times in the Quran. A few of these verses that mention olives are:
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as (if there were) a niche and within it a lamp, the lamp is in glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east (i.e., it neither gets sun-rays only in the morning) nor of the west (i.e., nor does it get sun-rays only in the afternoon – but it is exposed to the sun all day long,) whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself,) though no fire touched it. Light upon Light! Allah guides to His Light whom He wills. And Allah sets forth parables for mankind, and Allah is All-Knower of everything.” [Surah al-Noor 24:35]
“And He it is who causes gardens to grow, [both] trellised and untrellised, and palm trees and crops of different [kinds of] food and olives and pomegranates, similar and dissimilar. Eat of [each of] its fruit when it yields and give its due [zakah] on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess.” [Surah al-Anaam, 6:141]
“And a tree (olive) that springs forth from Mount Sinai, that grows oil, and (it is a) relish for the eaters.” [Surah al-Muminoon 23:20]
“By the fig and the olive.” [Surah al-Tin 95:1]
Allah’s (SWT) wisdom behind mentioning olives in the Quran is clear. The verses emphasize the importance of olives as foods of sustenance and nourishment. Moreover, like other fruits mentioned in the Quran, the mention of olives is to remind us that the food Allah (SWT) has provided us with is beneficial to our health and is a great blessing.
Olives are also mentioned in the Hadith:
Abu Aseed said: “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘Eat the oil and use it on your hair and skin, for it comes from a blessed tree.'” [Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 1775; see also Saheeh al-Jaami]
The oil referred to in the Hadith is from the olive tree.
How to Use Olives?
It is Sunnah to include olives in your diet. I like to keep a few jars of olives in the fridge as snacks. I enjoy garlic-stuffed olives because garlic is beneficial to your health and also because garlic-stuffed olives don’t make your breath smell! I am quite partial to the Kalamata olives, but I encourage people who don’t regularly consume olives to try several varieties to see what suits their fancy.
Olives are wonderful to include in cooking as well. I tend to use them the most in salads, but they also work great in pasta sauce, or with roasted potatoes.
With their long history in the Abrahamic faiths and their specific significance in the Quran, olives are a source of both physical and spiritual goodness. It is evident that they can improve our quality of life so why not consume olives, regularly? After all, following the Prophetic Sunnah is always rewarding not to mention, it also brings bodily benefits!
So the next time you drizzle olive oil in a pan or use it as salad dressing, remember that you are consuming a divine fruit that has been mentioned by Allah (SWT) in the Quran!