You know about olive oil and its growing reputation as a health-giving food, but have you considered the olive leaf? If your only exposure, thus far, to the olive leaf is to dusty illustrations of ancient Olympic champions wearing olive-leaf crowns, you might want to take another look.
Cultivation of olive trees is believed to have originated around the shores of the Mediterranean over 5,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians may have been among the first to use the olive leaf therapeutically in daily teas and medicines and, because of its preservation qualities, for the mummification of their kings.
A little more recently, in 1854, an article was published in the Pharmaceutical Journal of Provincial Transactions outlining that a “decoction of the leaves” of the olive tree had been found to be effective in curing several cases of fever and malaria.
The olive tree’s disease resistance was a source of interest for many years, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that a bitter compound called oleuropein was isolated from the olive leaf and determined to be the essential compound in this process.
Oleuropein Holds the Key
It was in the 1960s that research done with animals led to the discovery that oleuropein could be used to lower blood pressure, increase blood flow in the coronary arteries, and relieve arrhythmia.
A primary component of oleuropein, elenolic acid, was also studied in animals for its ability to inhibit the growth of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Extensive evidence from animal studies of the benefits of olive leaf extracts is convincing and revolves around the antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, and cardiovascular properties. Recent evidence has also pointed to the positive influence on blood sugar and oxidative stress in diabetic rabbits.
Until results of human clinical trials, currently underway, are made public, the benefits to humans can only be attributed to anecdotal evidence of health care practitioners and consumers. Reported benefits include relief of arthritic conditions, many of the symptoms of Candida albicans, sore throats, colds, chronic sinusitis, chronic fatigue, psoriasis, shingles (herpes zoster), and treatment of the herpes simplex I and II.
The only side effect that has been reported with clinical use is the “die-off” phenomenon or Herxheimer reaction. This is believed to occur when a large number of infectious organisms in the body are killed off in a short amount of time. The body’s immune system responds quickly to remove these substances. As a result, flu-like symptoms such as headache, fatigue, fever, and muscle and joint aches may occur.
From Greek mythology to the Bible, the olive tree has been recognized as a symbol of peace and the beginning of new life and hope. With new research indicating tremendous antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, the olive tree has more than earned its illustrious reputation.