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Notes from the Apothecary

Notes from the Apothecary: Olives


The olive tree, Olea europaea, is an evergreen tree, bearing small fruits that we harvest for their oil – or simply to preserve and eat. Olives are native to many Mediterranean countries and the Middle East, which is why they are often linked to Greek and Roman deities in Western spirituality.

The first time I saw olive trees in the wild, it was amazing. Here was my favourite snack, growing right by the side of the road! I saw them in Portugal, Spain, but none were so striking as in the olive groves of the Greek island of Rhodes. Rows upon rows of small, sturdy trees, singing with cicadas and heavy with fruit, they truly seemed like an orchard of life itself.


The Kitchen Garden


It’s possible to grow your own olives if you have the space for a small tree, and a kind enough climate. Olives thrive on hot summers and mild winters, so for me, here in the north of England, I would have to keep one inside. And I already have a windowsill full of citrus trees and am not allowed any more pet plants!

Olives are, of course, a fantastic food. Olive oil is considered one of the healthier oils for cooking with, and makes a fantastic salad dressing. It’s also used in plenty of Mediterranean food, like the creamy Greek dip, tzatziki. You can buy whole olives with or without the stones or pits, and the whole fruit may be green, black, or a lovely purple. I enjoy the large green olives, which are firm and almost burst in the mouth. But, I also have a soft spot for kalamata olives, a longer, softer, dark olive with plenty of flavour.

In Rhodes, I was introduced to Ladolia olives, a variety that is left to ripen and even slightly wrinkle on the tree. The softer yet slightly dryer texture of these olives is incredibly addictive!


The Apothecary

Olives are often touted as being very healthy, but it’s important to remember that the way olives are packaged in many grocery stores/supermarkets means they are very high in salt. Always drink plenty of water and don’t gorge yourself on briny olive snacks.

The good news is that olives are extremely high in a range of micronutrients. They contain vitamin E, great for your skin and your immune system. Although they are high in fat, it’s monounsaturated fat which is associated with good heart health and reduced inflammation.

Many skin products contain olive oil for its moisturising properties. In Greece, olive oil soap is big business and there are many factories where you can go and see the soap being made. Olive oil also makes an excellent massage oil.


The Witch’s Kitchen

The olive can be used magically in many different forms. Olive oil can be used as an offering, for anointing oneself or someone else, for anointing objects such as sacred items on an altar, or for marking boundaries. The olives themselves can also be given as an offering, or their image could be used as a focal point for meditation. An olive branch or the image of an olive branch can have various meanings and be a sacred item or image or a something to focus on for visualization.

Olives and olive oil are associated with many deities and beings. I use olive oil on my Hekate altar, and will give whole olives as offerings in rituals or petitions.


Olives are sacred to Athena, and linked to her city of Athens. Her gift to the people, the olive tree, grew in the acropolis for centuries and even resisted burning. Olive oil is used in the lighting of the Olympic flame, and olive oil was also used in lamps lit to honour Zeus.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace or new beginnings, or supplication. In Greece, Hiketeria was an olive branch used when approaching gods in the temple, to show respect. If you work with Greek or Roman deities or beings, you could use the olive branch in a similar way.

Olives are also linked to the following correspondences:

    • Protection
    • Nourishment
    • Practicality
    • Toughness and strength
    • Resilience
    • Hidden fragility
    • Overcoming adversity
    • Cleansing and divine anointment
    • Transformation
    • Reconciliation
    • Cycles of life and death, particularly the abundance of life


Home and Hearth

If you honour Hekate, share olives with Her and any guests you might have at the dark of the moon, often called Deipnon.

You can leave a small glass of olive oil as an offering, or dab some on your chest, mouth, and forehead to commit your heart, words, and mind to a deity or cause.

Sprinkle olive oil around the boundaries of your home for protection – not recommended for inside the home as it can stain!

Keep the pits after you have feasted on whole olives and cast them on the ground – again, outside is best for this. Note any patterns such as images or which direction they mostly fall in, and keep a record in your journal. Bury or compost your pits.


I Never Knew…

According to local lore, a huge, beautiful and gnarled olive tree in Ano Vouves in Crete is the oldest olive tree in the world at around 3000 years old!


*All images copyright free via Unsplash.


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors & Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.