According to archaeologists, olive trees and olive oil production formed the basis for many communities in the hills of Judea during ancient times. The eastern hills of Jerusalem included the Mount of Olives; trees of up to 500 years in age remain on the hill and in Jerusalem itself, adding vigor to scriptural references in both Jewish and Christian bibles. Trees in and around Jerusalem have weathered the same struggles and conflicts as buildings and residents of the town. Several organizations, therefore, give time and effort to maintaining the productive living history of the Jerusalem olive trees.
Archeologists speculate that equipment to extract oil from olives constitutes some of the earliest farm machinery, along with stones for grinding grains and vats for brewing beer. Frequent references to olive trees throughout the Mediterranean Basin, including Greek, Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic mentions, suggest the importance of this gradually domesticated widely growing wild tree. Jerusalem, as a market town, surely traded in olives and oil, like many of its Judean neighbors.
Olive Trees in the Mediterranean
Among its regional collections, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens maintains a plant collection devoted to flora of the Mediterranean Basin, including varietal and cultivation information. The collection emphasizes the drought-tolerant fragrant herbs grown throughout the area, along with shrubs and trees. This site outlines the growing needs--and tolerances--of olive trees that make them adapt and thrive in challenging growing conditions.
Caring for Olive Trees in Jerusalem
Continuing an ancient cultivation tradition, the city of Jerusalem itself it still home to many olive trees. Exact numbers do not exist, although Jerusalem.com cites the recent planting of "hundreds" of trees that now require maintenance and permit harvest by small growers and processors. The organization's solution is an "adopt-a-tree" program, which supports grooming and care of olive trees; donors are rewarded with a flask of local olive oil.
Harvesting Olives in Jerusalem
An even more hands-on approach to olive trees in Jerusalem is the annual harvest program conducted by the Lutheran World Foundation. Area residents and visitors are invited to join the harvest and experience the ancient culture of olives directly. Trees are located on the grounds of the Federation's Augusta Hospital, on the Mount of Olives, and harvesting is conducted in October.
Olive Trees in Jerusalem
Visiting olive trees in Jerusalem offers the opportunity to see trees that bear hundreds of years of history in their twisted, wind-bent limbs. Supporting their cultivation from a distance is another way to feel one has a small handhold on history. Being fortunate enough to live in a climate hospitable to olive trees adds a third way to make this connection.