It’s Olive oil, (health and) beauty!
Olive oil is surely be a valuable ally for health and beauty. Olive oil is extracted from olives, a fruit coming from the olive tree or Olea Europaea.
What are the differences among simple olive oil, virgin and extra virgin olive oil? The last two require a mechanical pressing while the first one is a mixture of refined and virgin olive oils. Hence, simple olive oil has a higher percentage of acidity (oleic acid) than virgin oil and much more than extra virgin as, this percentage, is inversely proportional to the quality of the product.
So, there are some factors that distinguish the virgin from the extra virgin variety, and the higher quality of the second can be identified with a lower presence of some parameters (such as acidity, oxidation markers and organoleptic properties), which are higher in virgin olive oil.
Olives first appeared in Syria, approximately 6 thousand years ago as a wild plant species that was later domesticated. The Egyptians used it to soften skin and make hair shinier. It is said that it was Cleopatra’s elixir of eternal beauty and youth as she used to spread it on her body and hair.
When it arrived to Ancient Greece it became the goddess Athena’s symbol of peace and spirituality. In Greek mythology it is said that, as Athena was in war with Poseidon over the city of Athens, the goddess was able to win because she offered the city the most useful gift, the olive tree rather than seawater. Crowns of olive and olive oil jars became prizes for soldiers; the precious essence was used as an ointment to warm up athletes’ muscles and, at the same time, to weaken opponents’ grip. At public baths, it was massaged on skin following ablutions and Greek women loved it as a hair mask.
Then, also the Ancient Romans discovered olive oil and, using their skilful cosmetic techniques, were able to benefit from its soothing, nourishing, moisturizing and calming properties. Oils and ointments were used after baths on damp skin. Pliny the Elder, in Naturalis Historia, gathered plenty of information on olive oil-based perfumes, referring to 1st century AD Greek doctor and pharmacist Pedanius Discorides. The Greek pharmacist favoured for his essence production the onfacium variety, obtained from the pressing of green unripe olives collected from August up to the beginning of fall, as it was clear and odourless oil.
At the time, as distillation was not in use, Pliny and Discorides refer to warm maceration, in water and oil, as the technique used to extract perfume from plants. Roots, leaves, shrubs, mosses and flowers were put in open pots and covered in olive oil and rainwater. Then, the pots were buried under hot sand up to the neck of the jar for a maximum of five days. When the temperature reached 60° C (140 °F), the essential oils would come up to the surface with the olive oil, as the rainwater evaporated. After the formula was filtered, a pinch of salt was added, to maintain the olive oil’s properties, together with a bit of resin, to better secure the perfume’s aroma.
Slaves specialised in cosmetics and beauty, the ancestors of our modern beauticians and cosmetologists, were called cosmetae: skilled in the production of cosmetics, especially if olive oil based (like waxing, created in Ancient Rome, with a mixture of resin and other ingredients).
During the Middle Ages olive oil was strictly used in medicine, as physical beauty was not sought, but it was rediscovered during the Renaissance. After another drop in popularity, it became a pillar of the cosmetics industry from the end of the Nineteenth century up to now.
Symbol of nutrition, natural cosmetics and spirituality, olive oil is most of all authentic beauty, recognized as such by artists, poets and literates over the centuries. Antonio Zurlo, Apulian Maester, knows one thing or two about olives as, in his emporium located in the city-centre of Ostuni (Brindisi), he creates precious handicrafts using olivewood ,which brings back to life this plant’s history through unique and whimsical shapes.