Olea europea sylvestris. Related Species: Wild Olive (Olea africana), Oleaster (O. europaea var. oleaster). The olive is native to the Mediterranean region, tropical and central Asia and various parts of Africa. The olive requires a long, hot growing season to properly ripen the fruit, no late spring frosts to kill the blossoms and sufficient winter chill to insure fruit set. The olive is an evergreen tree growing to 50 ft. in height with a spread of about 30 ft. The graceful, billowing appearance of the olive tree can be rather attractive. The gnarled branching pattern is quite distinctive. The olive's feather-shaped leavesí skin is rich in tannin, giving the mature leaf its gray-green appearance. The leaves are replaced every two or three years, leaf-fall usually occurring at the same time new growth appears in the spring. The small, fragrant, cream-colored olive flowers are largely hidden by the evergreen leaves. Strong winds will "sculpt" the trees, but otherwise they are quite wind-tolerant.
The olive fruit is a green drupe, becoming generally blackish-purple when fully ripe. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them bitter and unpalatable. Olive fruits that are to be processed as green olives are picked while they are still green but have reached full size. There are several classical ways of curing olives. A common method is the lye-cure process in which green or near-ripe olives are soaked in a series of lye solutions for a period of time to remove the bitter principle and then transferred to water and finally a mild saline solution. Other processing methods include water curing, salt curing and Greek-style curing. In the Mediterranean region olives and olive oil are common ingredients of everyday foods.