tre (zayith, a word occurring also in Aramaic, Ethiopic and Arabic; in the last it means "olive oil," and zaitun, "the olive tree"; elaia):
The olive tree has all through history been one of the most characteristic, most valued and most useful of trees in Palestine. It is only right that it is the first named "king" of the trees (
The olive, Olea Europaea (Natural Order Oleaceae), is a slow-growing tree, requiring years of patient labor before reaching full fruitfulness. Its growth implies a certain degree of settlement and peace, for a hostile army can in a few days destroy the patient work of two generations. Possibly this may have something to do with its being the emblem of peace. Enemies of a village or of an individual often today carry out revenge by cutting away a ring of bark from the trunks of the olives, thus killing the trees in a few months. The beauty of this tree is referred to in
In starting an oliveyard the fellah not infrequently plants young wild olive trees which grow plentifully over many parts of the land, or he may grow from cuttings. When the young trees are 3 years old they are grafted from a choice stock and after another three or four years they may commence to bear fruit, but they take quite a decade more before reaching full fruition. Much attention is, however, required. The soil around the trees must be frequently plowed and broken up; water must be conducted to the roots from the earliest rain, and the soil must be freely enriched with a kind of marl known in Arabic as chuwwarah. If neglected, the older trees soon send up a great many shoots from the roots all around the parent stem (perhaps the idea in
2. The Fruit:
The olive is in flower about May; it produces clusters of small white flowers, springing from the axils of the leaves, which fall as showers to the ground (
The olive is an important article of diet in Palestine. Some are gathered green and pickled in brine, after slight bruising, and others, the "black" olives, are gathered quite ripe and are either packed in salt or in brine. In both cases the salt modifies the bitter taste. They are eaten with bread.
More important commercially is the oil. This is sometimes extracted in a primitive way by crushing a few berries by hand in the hollow of a stone (compare
3. Olive Oil:
Oil is obtained on a larger scale in one of the many varieties of oil mills. The berries are carried in baskets, by donkeys, to the mill, and they are crushed by heavy weights. A better class of oil can be obtained by collecting the first oil to come off separately, but not much attention is given to this in Palestine, and usually the berries are crushed, stones and all, by a circular millstone revolving upright round a central pivot. A plenteous harvest of oil was looked upon as one of God’s blessings (
4. Greater Plenty of Olive Trees in Ancient Times:
Comparatively plentiful as olive trees are today in Palestine, there is abundant evidence that the cultivation was once much more extensive. "The countless rock-cut oil-presses and wine-presses, both within and without the walls of the city (of Gezer), show that the cultivation of the olive and vine was of much greater importance than it is anywhere in Palestine today. .... Excessive taxation has made olive culture unprofitable" ("Gezer Mem," PEF, II, 23). A further evidence of this is seen today in many now deserted sites which are covered with wild olive trees, descendants of large plantations of the cultivated tree which have quite disappeared.
5. Wild Olives:
Many of these spring from the old roots; others are from the fallen drupes. Isolated trees scattered over many parts of the land, especially in Galilee, are sown by the birds. As a rule the wild olive is but a shrub, with small leaves, a stem more or less prickly, and a small, hard drupe with but little or no oil. That a wild olive branch should be grafted into a fruitful tree would be a proceeding useless and contrary to Nature (