By Courtney Hutchison, published on May 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 3, 2009
Whether floating cheekily in your martini or perking up your salad, the olive is a multitalented fruit that first appeared in Asia Minor over 6,000 years ago. Olea europaea served as staple food, sacred offering, and medical ointment to ancient Mediterraneans. Its oil, thought to proffer youth, purity, and vitality, perfumed the wrists of Cleopatra; anointed the heads of priests, emperors, and Olympians; and salved the sore muscles of gladiators. Today, interest in the olive also goes well beyond the culinary: Modern research links the fruit, rich in the polyphenol antioxidant hydroxytyrosol, to brain health. By protecting neurons from oxidative stress, the antioxidant slows cell death and can lower the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and other dementias.