Sunday, 4 February 2007


Last week many a Greek must have thought: EUREKA! Thanks to a talkshow on television the new medical hype struck like a bolt of lightning: curing cancer with leaves from olive trees. Late at night some olive-gurus said that a thick green drink made with olive tree leaves and a glass of water mixed in a blender, was the ultimate cure for cancer. Several people with cancer were brought to the television studio to tell their success stories.

The whole of Greece was enlivened, because every Greek has at least one olive tree. Lesvos could also have a golden future. The millions of olive trees here on the island can produce I don't know how many kilos of leaves. And in the heat of the moment they were offering 60 euros for a kilo of olive tree leaves. That is far more than you will ever get for your olive oil. The government tried to calm public opinion by warning that scientifically nothing has been proven yet and that certainly nobody should replace their medication with an olive-frappé (frappelia). The battle between people who believed in the holy power of olive leaves and those that didn't turned nasty when the first death had to be mourned. Two brothers fought about whether they should administer a frappelia to a third brother who has cancer. In the heat of the argument one stabbed the other.

It is common knowledge that consuming olive oil is very healthy. Only a few people know that the leaves of the tree also have health giving properties. The masses did not know until now. That changed last week and now every Greek harvesting his olives will not know whether to throw away the leaves that fell during the battering of the trees.

In ancient times the gods Poseidon and Athena quarrelled over a city they both loved. So Zeus organized a test for them: they each had to make something for the city and the citizens had to choose the best creation. Poseidon struck a rock with a piece of wood and a well sprung out of the rock. However, it was salty water that came out. Athena created the first olive tree and had it planted not far away from the Acropole. The city chose the olive tree which offered food, wood and oil. According to another version of this story Poseidon created the first horse. But still the Athenians chose the olive tree. And this is how the city of Athens got her name. Thanks to the olive tree of Athena.

If we did not live in a world without wonder, we would believe that the olive tree was a miracle tree. The olive tree has been cultivated for some 6,000 years and there has been a lot of experimentation with its products. Only in the last century scientists managed to isolate 'oleuropein', a substance that protects the olive tree against diseases. Later they discovered the anti-viral qualities of this substance. And even though nowadays we do not believe in miracles anymore, the Greeks did last week. What a talkshow can bring about...

It is good that the olive-gurus didn't also find out that the bark of the olive tree has health giving properties. Already now they are emptying the trees of their leaves. If they start cutting off the bark of these wonderful trees...

According to an old encyclopedia of medicinal plants, extracts from olive tree leaves made according to a certain recipe will be good against fever, rheumatism and high blood pressure. On the internet several people say that it helps cure diseases like cancer, a cold, fungal infections and fatigue. On certain sites you can even order capsules, powders, tea bags and drinks with extracts from olive tree leaves.

A few things are sure. Olive tree leaves are not a proven cure against cancer. And certainly putting leaves and some water in a blender is not the way to prepare them. The best way to get some olive juice into your body is to make an infusion from the leaves. They say that it won't hurt. Unless you drink those silly cocktails taking in mountains of raw leaves.

Another piece of advice: do not pick all the leaves from your olive tree. Without leaves there will be no olives and without olives there will be no oil. And that is the only point upon which everybody agrees: the health giving properties of olive oil.

Hippocrates once said: "Food should be your medicine, and if you need medicine, take it from food!" I don't want to say that olive tree leaves are a good ingredient for a salad for example. But these days I won't be surprised if I get olive tree leaves served in the green mixed salads which are more often than not decorated with all kinds of medicinal green plants. To be honest, I satisfied my curiosity by making a tea from olive tree leaves. I soaked some leaves from the olive tree next to our house in hot water and waited a few minutes. The light green water did not taste like anything. So do not be afraid that you will miss a new culinary treat by not eating olive tree leaves.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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