The Olive Oil Museum, unique in Cyprus, features olive oil extraction
methods of the past (millstone, olive press) and various items related
to the storage and uses of the olive oil as well as its history.
Illustrated wallboards give a variety of interesting facts, such
as wearing wooden shoes to press olives and the role played by the
olive oil in the Mediterranean diet for medicinal and cosmetic purposes,
as well as on other gifts and uses of the olive tree. Visitors have
the opportunity to compare the extraction methods of the past to
the modern process of the ecological olive mill. Finally, they can find out more about the gifts of the olive tree.
The Gifts Of The Olive Tree
The olive tree sets the geographic boundaries
of the Mediterranean. ‘… where the olive tree stops, the Mediterranean
ends’ (George Duhamel). Olive oil, the ‘liquid gold’ (Homer), has
been a source of life for the peoples of the basin for thousands
of years. Cypriots based their diet on olive products for thousands
of years. They literally survived, as a common proverb claims, on
‘bread and olives’. They used olive oil and olive tree leaves for
medicinal and cosmetic purposes and the wood of the tree to make
The olive tree is interrelated with the light as well as with ancient
rituals (e.g. olive tree branches were used for purification). In
the Old Testament the olive tree is the tree of hope. References
to the symbolism of the olive tree are also made in the New Testament,
in Egyptian papyri, and the Koran. In the Greek tradition –and later
during the Roman empire -it is the tree of peace.
Olive oil plays an essential role in the Mediterranean
diet, often considered as possibly the healthiest in the world.
Scientific research has shown that olive oil, which is cholesterol
free, strengthens us against cancer, cardio-vascular and other diseases,
and it is generally healthier than butter or the other oils. Extra
virgin olive oil, in particular organic, is the olive oil of the
highest quality, as its acidity is low (less than 0.8%). Olive oil
(plain or with herbs) is used not only in salads, beans, sauces
etc., but it also replaces butter and the other oils in cooking
in the Mediterranean diet, even in pies, biscuits, and cakes. Olive
oil is also ideal for frying. When not over-heated, it undergoes
no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value
better than other oils, not only because of the antioxidants but
also due to its high levels of oleic acid
Olive oil was widely used in medicine both in antiquity and the
Byzantine Era. In Cyprus it is still found in various grandma’s
medicines. For instance, a piece of cotton soaked in warm olive
oil is used to soften earache. Pregnant women would rub their bellies
with olive oil to avoid stretch marks. Rubbing olive oil on parts
of the body aching would relief from pain. Athletes in ancient Greece
would rub their bodies in olive oil. What is more, olive oil is
also believed that olive oil has aphrodisiac qualities. According
to a popular proverb: ‘Eat olive oil and come in the evening. Eat
butter and sleep like a log’.
Olive oil and olive kernels have been widely used to produce soaps
and other natural beauty products for the skin and hair. Olive oil
has been used to lighten houses and public places since prehistoric
times. It is still used to light ‘candilia’, small hanging oil lamps,
in the Christian Orthodox church.
There are several dozens of different kinds of olives,
which can be prepared in many a ways, e.g. in vinegar, in salt,
stuffed, as paste etc. They can also be used in dozens of recipes.
The main olive sort for olive oil is considered to be the ‘koroneiki’.
Tea made with olive tree leaves is an excellent
natural way to counter high blood pressure. Olive tree leaves are
also used in religious and traditional customs. On Cyprus, for example,
on New Year’s Eve olive tree leaves in the shape of the cross are
thrown into the fireplace. If they leap, it means the wish will
come true in the coming year.
Wild olive branches (kotinos) were used to crown
Olympic Games winners in Ancient Greece. Already Homer mentions
furniture made of wood from the olive tree. Even
today, the olive tree wood is used to make salad bowls, boxes, small
pieces of furniture, and an assortment of small decorative objects
for the house.