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Oleaster olea silvestris infructifera vocatur arabice zambugi grece vero agrielea ut supra.


olea ABC f | oliua e

vocatur om. AC

agrielea A | agrielea f | agrilea B | grielea C | agrie letuit? e


Oleaster is the wild olive tree, which does not bear any fruit; in Arabic it is called zambugi but in Greek agrielea, see above the entry Agrielea.


In antiquity the wild olive played a part in many cultures, less so economically than culturally. In Greece oleaster leaves were used for the victor's wreath in the Olympic games as was expressly ordered by the Delphic oracle. The plant also played a role in medicine, as shown by Dioscorides, 1, 105, ed. Wellmann (1906-14: I.97-9) ἀγριελαία /agrielaía/, Dioscorides Longobardus, 1, 114, ed. Mihăescu (1938: 57-8) De agrielea id est oleastru, and Pliny, passim, but see 23, 28, 76-8, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VI.464, 466); which contains largely parallel statements to Dioscorides. Most parts of the plant, i.e. leaves, leaf extract, liquid from its burning wood, fruit and fruit oil were seen as medicinally useful for a number of afflictions.

Botanical identification:

Botanically the wild olive or oleaster cannot easily be determined from the cultivated varieties of the olive tree. This explains the taxonomic tug-of-war between on the one hand the proponents of Olea europaea L. [[1]], the cultivated form, and Olea oleaster, Hoffmanns & Links [[2]], the wild form, being seen as two different species, and on the other hand the opposing camp who see them as subspecies and varieties of the same plant, then often called Olea europaea L. var. oleaster, but other positions in-between are also being proposed. A distinction is sometimes made between cultivated, wild – i.e. not interfered by human cultivation attempts, and feral forms, the latter being the result of long neglect or of hybridisations between wild and cultivated forms. Wild and cultivated varieties are fully interfertile.

Contrary to Simon's statement above the wild olive does bear fruit, only they are smaller, very bitter and with little oil compared to the cultivated varieties. They were collected by hunter-gatherers some 9000 years ago as shown by stones found in various archaeological sites. The first cultivated forms were developed in the Neolithic about 4000 years ago with the aim to increase the oil content and more than 1000 different local cultivars have to date been identified all over the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The slow-growing, drought- but not very frost-tolerant wild form grows in a variety of habitats and is e.g. part of the typical maquis and garrigue vegetation, where it grows on bare and rocky ground preferably on limestone and near the sea.

See also: Agrielea, Zambugi

WilfGunther 01/01/14

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