Some call olive oil ‘liquid gold,’ but my family and I call it ‘magical’.
It’s amazing the things you learn about food when raised by a very traditional Italian family. My family pride themselves on passing along traditions, something that I’m so very grateful for, and food… well, food is about bringing people together and sharing stories, laughter, and togetherness, emphasized with simplicity and passion.
Olive oil is never lacking in an Italian kitchen. It has been a symbol of Italian food and of the history of Italian cuisine.
Olive trees go far back before biblical times, with their legendary reputation. Italians consider the olive tree holy and their olive oil sacred, evoking feelings of vitality and health. The olive branch is often considered a symbol of abundance and peace. Olive oil is also known for having incredible health benefits. Scientific research has shown olive oil to be packed with powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. In fact, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, writes about over 60 different conditions or ailments that can be treated with olive oil.
Olive oil is my favorite ingredient that can be used in so many different ways. How much do I love olive oil? So much so that I purchased an olive grove in Tuscany because I fell in love with the olive trees. There truly is something special about them but also, what they produce…. a magical, beneficial, and amazing liquid gold. I named the olive oil after my Nonna, ‘La Pasqualina.’ ‘La’ because in Tuscany, the definite article is mainly placed before female names… La Maria, La Elisa, La Pina, etc… It is a widespread form in dialectal language when referring to the female third person. I always found it to be amusing and adorable so, … ‘La Pasqualina Extra-Virgin Olive Oil’ was born.
Olive oil is very popular and has been used for centuries. When I lived in Italy from 1999-2005, I decided to partake in the entire “oil harvesting process.” Clearly, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but my childhood friend and I wanted to share the full experience. It was brilliant, fun, and exhausting all at the same time!
They first lay a net under the tree, which fits nicely around the base of the tree. We were then given long wooden sticks with rakes attached and baskets. You take the stick with the rake and slide the olives gently down the branch, allowing them to drop onto the net – talk about exercise!! They use this method so that the branch and olives don’t suffer. That’s right, olive trees have feelings and get hurt easily, so we were told that we needed to be gentle as we raked the branches – the gentler we were on the trees, the better the olive oil. The entire time, I found myself completely focused on the tree and the olives so that it would make amazing olive oil! I lovingly talked to the tree and was determined not to hurt the branches and olives – after all, those who owned the olive trees had a deep love and attachment for them and I did not want to disappoint anyone – including the trees. Once we finished raking the trees, we folded the nets and emptied the olives into the baskets, where they are then taken to the mill for the second part of the process. It was quite an experience – one I will never forget! We were all rewarded with an incredible lunch with a delicious homemade meal, warm bread out of the oven, and, of course, homemade wine!
I recently was chatting with my mom and sister, and we talked about the various uses of olive oil. My family had many uses for extra-virgin olive oil, but below are some of my favorites that they shared with me:
- Take baths with olive oil. This will make your skin smooth and very soft. Add about 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil and immerse yourself in a relaxing and moisturizing bath.
- Use olive oil as a makeup remover. Not only are you removing makeup, but you are also nourishing and moisturizing your skin. Apply a little bit of olive oil on a warm damp wash cloth and gently wipe away the makeup from your face. Rinse face with warm water and then cold water. Cold water will help stimulate the blood circulation and close pores.
- Wrinkles, wrinkles go away!! Many years ago, they had no facial creams – their anti-aging cream was olive oil. Olive oil has excellent moisturizing, toning, and antioxidant properties, thanks to the presence of precious substances such as vitamin E, which fights free radicals, Vitamin A, responsible for skin regenerations, and oleic acids, which make the skin soft and elastic, to name a few.
- Olive oil for manicures. Massage a few drops of olive oil on nails and cuticles to soften cuticles and strengthen nails. It also makes your skin softer and more elastic. If after removing nail polish you have stains on your nails, soak your nails in a bowl mixed with olive oil and lemon – this will also strengthen your nails.
- Olive oil for shaving. If you have sensitive skin, dip the razor in olive oil and shave. Alternatively, you can grease your hands and gently massage the area to be shaved. This will allow the skin to absorb all the nutrients of the olive oil.
- Use for strains, muscle/joint pain, and insect bites. Heat the olive oil and massage those areas for a few minutes. This will help to relax the muscles and relieve pain.
- For bad breath: Mix a teaspoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of lemon, and take on an empty stomach.
- For dry and tangled hair. If you have dry, tangled hair, warm the olive oil, and add to your entire head of hair, while messaging the scalp. Not only will it untangle your hair, but olive oil with protect it, nourish it, make it shinier and brighter, as well as moisturize your scalp.
- Olive oil for the Evil Eye – better known as “Malocchio”. Still very much a tradition in Italy, as well as in my family. Fortunately, my mom was trained to do this many years ago in her mountain village hometown outside of Naples, Italy….even my friends come to see her! The ‘malocchio’ (mal=bad, occhio=eye) is believed to be caused by the bad thoughts of other people – especially envy. It’s said that you never know who is giving you the malocchio, but usually it’s someone who is fairly close to you. My mom uses a dish of water into which she drops olive oil from her finger. There is a prayer ritual that goes along with this. When you have many spots of oil clumped together or the oil completely disappears once it hits the water, then you have a problem with malocchio. Water and oil don’t mix, so you would be amazed when this happens!
- Loosen up screws: My uncle builds homes and when he needs to loosen up a screw, he adds olive oil.
- Remove splinters: just add olive oil on the splinter. This will soften the skin and make it easier to extract by squeezing.
- And one of my favorites, olive oil for light! Years ago, in the mountains, outside of Naples, they did not have electricity. My mom told me that at night, they would take wax, a tassel, and add olive oil – the candle would burn all night.
Olive oil….it’s not just for cooking!