A medium-sized, evergreen tree, the wild olive is found not only throughout Africa, but also in Arabia, India and China. It is found in diverse habitats from woodlands to rocky hilltops. The sweetly scented flowers are creamy-white and appear from Oct to Feb. These are followed by the small fruit which are black when ripe. Indeed, it is mainly the smallness of the flower and fruit that separates this tree from the cultivated olive of commerce. It is however hardier of habit and for this reason used as a root stock for its commercial cousin.
The fruits of the wild olive are enjoyed by a host of birds, baboons, bushpigs, warthogs and vervet monkeys. Its leaves make it a very valuable fodder tree in arid areas such as the Karoo and Griqualand West. The dark juice of the fruit has been used to make ink and the beautiful wood is greatly valued for carving, cabinet work and furniture. Described as "steel like", the wood is very hard, durable and termite-and borer-resistant - popular then as fence poles that are said to last for 100´s of years.
Since the wild olive commonly grows on calciferous soils, they act as indicators for this subsoil type. The leaves can be used as a substitute for tea and there are a number of medicinal uses for this versatile tree: an infusion of the bark is used to relieve colic while infusions of the leaves are used as an eye lotion and a decoction as a gargle to relieve sore throats. It is also used to lower blood pressure.
With its neat form and hardy habit, the wild olive is a popular bonsai and landscape tree - excellent as a wind break as well as specimen tree. They are protected in South Africa.