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Subtropical, broad-leaved tree (Olea europaea) or its edible fruit. The olive was being grown on the island of Crete c. 3500 BC, and Semitic peoples apparently were cultivating it as early as 3000 BC. Its cultivation was important to the ancient Greeks and Romans and spread to all the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Today olives are grown primarily for olive oil, valued both for its distinctive taste and fragrance and for its dietary benefits. Fresh olives must be treated to neutralize their extreme bitterness before they can be eaten. The olive family (Oleaceae) comprises about 900 species in 24 genera of woody plants. Native to forested regions, members of the family grow worldwide except in the Arctic; they are evergreen in tropical and warm temperate climes and deciduous in colder zones. The family includes ash trees, which yield hardwood timber, and horticultural favourites such as the lilac, jasmine, privet, and forsythia. Many members of the family are cultivated for their beautiful and fragrant flowers.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on olive, visit Britannica.com.