My first encounter with this wonderful product of nature was at a very young age, when my grandfather extended his fork across the dining table. Impaled at the end of this three pronged eating tool was a berry like object in a unique dull green color. My reluctance to accept the snack was overcome rapidly by a command to eat and not be silly. It is since that since that day a bond has been sealed between me and the delicious fruit of the tree known botanically as Olea Europaea – a bond that manifests itself in my home during every meal.

The name Olea Europaea has always been of historical interest to me and I have often brooded over the question as to why this delightful fruit was surnamed European in spite of the fact that it was cultivated and consumed as a staple food item in ancient Asian civilizations at a time when the Europeans were growing out of their barbaric infancy. Perhaps it was Latin’s monopoly over all names botanical, which prompted linking the olive to the Mediterranean belt bordering Southern Europe, where this tree proliferates happily.

Olives are generally of two types – green and black. These are usually pickled in brine and come to us in pitted and un-pitted form. The pitted olives are stuffed with almost anything that favors the palate – cheese, sausage, garlic and so on.

The low hilly regions of Pakistan provide the perfect conditions for olive cultivation. Areas like the Kala Chitta Range, the Salt Range, the foothills of the Hindu Kush and Himalayan Ranges in KPK and around Islamabad are a natural habitat for the wild olive known as ‘Kahu’. This species can be grafted to produce a quality product of international standards.

I was intrigued to discover that the rural population living in and around Taxila and Khanpur use a tea brewed from the leaves of the ‘Kahu’ to treat kidney and gall bladder stones. I have never tried the concoction, but I am told that it is extremely bitter, yet effective. I am inclined to do some research into this, simply to separate fact from fiction.

The popularity of the ‘Kahu’ amongst the local populace can be gauged from the fact that a teeming rural community on the fringes of the Federal Capital has been named after the tree. I have on many occasions tried to reach the origins of the name ‘Barakahu’ (for this is what this town is called), but have always been confronted with multiple explanations. Nonetheless, my search will go on till I find an answer that satisfies me.

The good old Olea Euoropaea has also made its mark in the English language and international politics. The olive branch has come to symbolize ‘peace’ and adopted as the United Nations logo, which depicts a white dove carrying an olive branch in its beak, while the expression ‘presenting an olive branch’ is a widely used expression for peace overtures.

My passionate love affair with the olive has led me to begin nurturing a ‘Kahu’ plant growing wild in a corner of my compound, but it may be many years to the day when I am able to enjoy its fruit, as the tree takes a long time to mature. Till then, I will have to rely on my grocer to satisfy the craving for olives at my table.

On a lighter note, I have often wondered what made the creator of Popeye the Sailor, name the character’s mate “Olive.” My curiosity heightens when under ‘mushy’ circumstances, Popeye calls her “Olive Oyle”. I think someday, I will seek the answer from my grandson, who is an avid Popeye fan.

The writer is a historian