Olive Oil: “Liquid Gold” It’s Ancient Medicinal Uses and History

Olive oil – the “liquid gold” of the ancients is one of the precious ingredients in our Origin Oil Pack

History of Olive Oil

According to an article published by Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology the modern olive tree most likely originated in ancient Persia and Mesopotamia spreading towards Syria and Israel in the Mediterranean Basin where it was cultivated and later introduced to North Africa. Some scholars have argued that olive cultivation originated with the Ancient Egyptians.

There are indications that it was first cultivated in Syria by a Semitic race, 6.000 years ago, for records show that Ancient Palestine was famous for its olive groves, and exported oil to the Ancient Egyptians.

The olive tree reached Greece, Carthage and Libya sometime in the 28th century BC, having been spread westward by the Phoenicians. Until around 1500 BC, eastern coastal areas of the Mediterranean were most heavily cultivated. Evidence also suggests that olives were being grown in Crete as long ago as 2500 BC. The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3500 BC (Early Minoan times), though the production of olive oil is assumed to have started before 4000 BC.

Copper age (6th millennium BC)First extraction of thick‐oily liquid from olive fruit for dietary purposes
7th millennium BCUse of olive oil for cosmetic and basic medical purposes
9th–8th century BCUse for care of burned skin, dermatitis, stomach, liver and intestinal pains, and as sun protection
776 BCIn the first Olympic games the winners of various competitions were rewarded with an olive twig
6th century BCSolone decreed the first law for the preservation of the olive trees
5th century BCTucide sustained “The Mediterranean people ceased to be barbarians when they began to cultivate the olive tree and grape vines”
460–377 BCEven for Hippocrates, father of western medicine, olive oil was highly regarded
106–43 BCCicero wrote of the healthy aspects of “pinguis liquor olivae”
70–19 BCVirgil mentioned the olive oil produced by “dolci olivi (the sweet olive trees)” from “mite lago di Garda (the mild Garda lake)”
24–79 ADPliny the Elder in his “Historia Naturalis” listed 48 medicines made with olive oil
146–211 ADUnder the Roman emperor Settimo Severo: free distribution of olive oil was given to the urban masses
4th century ADUnder Constantine: at least 250 bakeries and 2300 olive oil distributors
Middle agesThe medical monks of the abbeys used preparations containing olive oil to treat burned skin and swellings, as well as different infections
RenaissanceThe jars containing olive oil were present in all pharmacies
19th century AD and todayOlive oil is still used as a home remedy for several ailments

Sacred Use of Olive Oil

Olive oil was also used to prepare the holy anointing oil used for priests, kings, prophets, and others.

The Bible, not surprisingly. contains many references to the culinary and religious uses of olives and olive oil. ln the Book of Genesis the dove sent out from the ark by Noah returned with an olive branch. Here it became the great symbol of peace, indicating the end of God’s anger.

The significance of olive oil is documented in the Book of Exodus, where Moses is told by the Lord how to make anointing oil of spices and olive oil. During consecration, holy anointing oil was, poured over the heads of kings and priests, and it is still used today in the Roman Catholic Church, at baptisms and rites for the dying.

The sacred use of olive oil also extended into the preparation of food used during sacrifices, such as pure wholewheat flour kneaded with olive oil, which is mentioned in the Book of Leviticus.

Another reference showing how important oil olive was in Biblical times is given in the Book of Judges. The trees wanted to elect a king to rule over them and so they chose the olive tree, but the tree refused by saying “and give up my oil by which gods and men are honored and go to sway over the trees?”

The Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches use olive oil for the Oil of Catechumens (used to bless and strengthen those preparing for Baptism) and Oil of the Sick (used to confer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick or Unction). Olive oil mixed with a perfuming agent such as balsam is consecrated by bishops as Sacred Chrism, which is used to confer the sacrament of Confirmation (as a symbol of the strengthening of the Holy Spirit), in the rites of Baptism and the ordination of priests and bishops, in the consecration of altars and churches, and, traditionally, in the anointing of monarchs at their coronation.

Eastern Orthodox Christians still use oil lamps in their churches, home prayer corners and in the cemeteries. A vigil lamp consists of a votive glass containing a half-inch of water and filled the rest with olive oil. The glass has a metal holder that hangs from a bracket on the wall or sits on a table. A cork float with a lit wick floats on the oil. To douse the flame, the float is carefully pressed down into the oil. Makeshift oil lamps can easily be made by soaking a ball of cotton in olive oil and forming it into a peak. The peak is lit and then burns until all the oil is consumed, whereupon the rest of the cotton burns out. Olive oil is a usual offering to churches and cemeteries.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses virgin olive oil that has been blessed by the priesthood. This consecrated oil is used for anointing the sick.

Iglesia ni Cristo uses olive oil to anoint sick (in Filipino: “Pagpapahid ng Langis”), it is blessed by minister or deacon by prayer before anointing to the sick. After anointing, the Elder prays for Thanksgiving.


In Jewish observance, olive oil was the only fuel allowed to be used in the seven-branched menorah in the Mishkan service during the Exodus of the tribes of Israel from Egypt, and later in the permanent Temple in Jerusalem. It was obtained by using only the first drop from a squeezed olive and was consecrated for use only in the Temple by the priests and stored in special containers. In modern times, although candles can be used to light the menorah at Hanukkah, oil containers are preferred, to imitate the original menorah.


Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen [1897]

Medicinal Uses of Olive Oil

Besides food, olive oil has been used for religious rituals and medicines.

Hippocrates (460–377 BC), father of western medicine, olive oil was highly regarded. Subsequently, Cicero (106–43 BC) wrote of the healthy aspects of “pinguis liquor olivae,” and Virgil (70–19 BC) mentioned the olive oil produced by “dolci olivi (the sweet olive trees)” from“mite lago di Garda (the mild Garda lake).” Pliny the Elder (24–79 AD), in his “Historia Naturalis,” listed 48 medicines made with olive oil.

“Olive oil was used to produce both medicine and cosmetics: Hippocrates called it “the great healer” and Homer “liquid gold”, Galen praised it for its positive effects on health.” (2)

“It is one of the best medicaments for delaying aging, and is also a good source of phytochemicals including polyphenolic compounds, squalene, alpha-tocopherol, carotenoid that may contribute to its overall therapeutic characteristics.” (1)

Olive oil was also popular as a form of birth control; Aristotle in his History of Animals recommends applying a mixture of olive oil combined with either oil of cedar, ointment of lead, or ointment of frankincense to the cervix to prevent pregnancy.

In the middle ages, the medical “monacus infirmorum (monk)” of the abbeys used preparations containing olive oil to treat burned skin and swellings, as well as different infections (i.e., gynaecological): a large part of these therapeutic indications were included during the 10th–12th centuries in the texts of the “Scuola Medica Salernitana (Salernitana Medical School),” the first western medical school. In the Renaissance, this practice continued. In fact, the “Oleum” jar was present in all pharmacies since olive oil had recognized healing properties in heart conditions, fever, anti‐diabetic, soothing, diuretic and hypertension 4, 5. Moreover, during the 19th century olive oil was also used to treat otitis, dermatitis, and eczemas. It was considered a mild laxative and, until few years ago, used by farmers as source of vitamin D to treat the rickets and pyorrhea, for neuritis, distortions, stomach pain, to extract thorns, foot calluses, and hair loss. (3)



1. Maria Lisa Clodoveo, Salvatore Camposeo, Bernardo De Gennaro, Simone Pascuzzi, Luigi Roselli, In the ancient world, virgin olive oil was called “liquid gold” by Homer and “the great healer” by Hippocrates. Why has this mythic image been forgotten?, Food Research International, Volume 62, 2014, Pages 1062-1068

2. Caramia G. L’olio extra vergine d’oliva. Dalla leggenda al razionale scientifico degli aspetti nutraceutici [Virgin olive oil. From legend to scientific knowledge of the nutraceutical aspects]. Pediatr Med Chir. 2006;28(1-3):9-23. Italian. PMID: 17533893.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17533893/

3. Caramia, G., Gori, A., Valli, E. and Cerretani, L. (2012), Virgin olive oil in preventive medicine: From legend to epigenetics. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol., 114: 375-388. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejlt.201100164

4. Hippocrates, The Writings of Hippocrates and Galen [1846]

Photo: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen [1897] Wikimedia