Olive herb – characteristics, cultivation and use

olive herb with flowers
olive herb with flowers © Stephan Budke

The olive herb is popular in the Mediterranean cuisine, mainly because of its intense flavor of pickled olives. However, since many valuable ingredients are included, olive herb is also applicable in folk medicine. The plant can be grown easily and therefore also enjoys many gardens with their bright flowers.

Profile of olive herb:

Scientific name: Santolina viridis

Plant family: asters (Asteraceae)

Other names: –

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April

Flowering period: May – June

Harvest time: June – August

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, shoots

Location: full sun

Soil quality: permeable, nutrient-poor and sandy soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: dermatitis, candida, bloating, gastrointestinal discomfort

Use as aromatic herb: pestos, fish dishes, mushroom dishes, meat, pizza

Plant characteristics and classification of olive herb

Origin and occurrence of olive herb

The olive herb originally comes from southern Europe. As its home the Iberian peninsula with the countries Spain and Portugal as well as the northern parts of Morocco are described. The herb is now partially wild in Italy.

It grows in these areas especially in full sun with poor and well drained soil.

Plant order of olive herb

The olive herb belongs (Santolina virens) to the family of the daisy family (Asteraceae) and is thus related to herbs such as dandelion, chamomile or curry plant. In the closer allocation the plant is a representative of the „holy herbs“ (Santolina), which is very poor in species with 24 kinds. In addition to the olive herb, the gray santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) may still be well known.

Occasionally, the name Santolina rosmarinifolia is used instead of the botanical name Santolina virens. Especially in the English-language literature, this name is more common.

Look and characteristics of olive herb


In the botanical sense, olive herb is described as a semi-shrub, which can reach stature heights between 25 and 60 cm (10 to 24 in). The plant is perennial and conditionally hardy.


The leaves are very characteristic and form needle-like, dark to light green and finely structured leaves. On the surface of the leaves grow small alternate bulges, reminiscent of buds. The leaves sit on the light green hexagonal stems. Neither stems nor leaves are hairy.


The flowers of the olive herb usually form from late May to early June and are mostly fully developed towards the end of June. The plant produces bright yellow knob-like basket blossoms, which smell slightly like olives. The flowers sit directly on the upper tip of the stem. Only one flower is found on each stalk.


After flowering, olive herb develop achenes. In this special form of nut fruits, only one seed per fruit is included.

leaves of olive herb
leaves of olive herb © Stephan Budke

Olive herb – cultivation and care


The olive herb needs a warm and sunny location. In addition to herbal beds and herbal spirals, sunny areas in the flowerbed are also well suited for the herbs. In addition, it is a pretty bed frame and fragrant structure plant between dry stone walls.


According to its natural range, the olive oil should be planted on rather nutrient-poor, calcareous and permeable soils. Ideally is a location next to rosemary, sage and lavender in the upper region or in the normal zone of a herbal spiral or in the rock garden. If necessary, you can loosen up the soil beforehand with some sand or gravel.


The sowing of olive herb should take place between March and beginning of April. The plant is one of the cold germs and needs for germination temperatures between 4 and 8 ° C / 39 and 46 ° F. The seeds can be sprinkled directly into the field under favorable weather conditions. Cheaper and more promising, however, is sowing in trays. The seeds of the herb are considered light germs. Therefore, the seeds are only lightly pressed onto the seed substrate. Good growing substrate are mainly mineral substrates with a small amount of potting soil.


The best way to increase olive herb over cuttings in the spring: cut off in the early summer about 20 cm (8 in) long shoot tips, remove the foliage in the lower area and put the cuttings in sandy and nutrient poor potting soil. Keep the cuttings constantly moist until they are rooted and avoid waterlogging. After about two weeks, the seedlings should have formed roots. Then they can be individually transplanted in larger pots. The young plants should only be set outdoors after the last frosts.


Olive herb requires relatively little water. On warm and hot days it is recommended to pour with little water. Once every ten days, a little more water can be given, but only moderate amounts. Too much water can quickly lead to root rot and eventually to the death of the herb.


In the field, little fertilizer should be given to the olive in spring and after flowering. Optimal are organic fertilizers such as compost or fertilizer pellets. Although pure nitrogen fertilizers such as horn shavings can be used, phosphorus and potassium are also needed to a limited extent, so that occasionally a fully-fledged fertilizer should be administered. Excessive fertilization should be avoided.


If the plant is to be cultivated over a longer period, olive herb should only be harvested in small quantities. In the first year, it makes sense to pick off only individual parts per plant.

Store and preserve

Olive herb can be dried or frozen.

Dry olive herb

To dry, the cut branches are bundled and hung upside down in a warm, shady and airy place. The dried leaves are easily stripped off the stem and placed in an airtight container.

Freeze olive herb

For freezing, the portioning in ice cube container has proven. To do this, the leaves are brushed off the stems and distributed into the compartments of an ice cube container. Now fill the compartments with water and place the container in the freezer. Thus, you always have olive herb ice cubes at hand, which can be used in the kitchen.


Oive herb needs a regular pruning, otherwise it will become bare after a few years. In addition, pruning stimulates the plant to a vigorous growth. In the pruning of thicker shoots slightly inclined cuts are to create, on these runs the rain better. Thus, no moisture forms in the subshrub and harmful mold can be avoided. The following procedure is to be followed when pruning:

  • Complete pruning only in early spring, just before the start of the growth phase
  • Cut to a maximum of one-third to half the stature height
  • Cut away already stalked flower stems completely
  • Completely cut back dead shoots near the ground
  • Pruning still-growing shoots only slightly
  • Always stop about 1 cm (0.4 in) above the new shoot
  • Pruning is also possible after flowering
  • Never cut into the old wood
  • Too deep cuts lead to the death of the plant


The herb is conditional frost tolerant and should be wintered in the house or conservatory if possible. If transport of the plants from the field is not possible, brushwood and leaves should be placed around the plant, in order to avoid deeper frost damages.

flowers of olive herb
flowers of olive herb © Stephan Budke

Olive herb and its use

The herb is used today mainly in the Mediterranean kitchen for a variety of dishes and recipes. In antiquity and the Middle Ages, it was a proven medicinal herb. Even today it is still used in folk medicine.

Olive herb in the kitchen

Especially in the Mediterranean kitchen, olive herb is used with its fresh olive-like flavor. The aroma of fresh olive herb leaves is sometimes reminiscent of green olives, with a slight aftertaste of other Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and savory.

The herb is today used as an ingredient for herbal pestos and marinades, pure for fresh salads or fresh for further processing in herb butters and herbal quarks. It can also be used directly for meat and fish dishes or for mushrooms. Very tasty are also tomatoes and mozzarella, which are garnished with olive herb instead of basil.

When cooking, it should be kept in mind that the herb loses much of its aroma when exposed to heat. When used for cooked or fried foods, the herb should be added shortly before closing.

The full aroma offers only the fresh herb. Dried olive herb can be used, but it loses most of its flavors when drying. Fresh herb can best be preserved by freezing or by pickling in vinegar.

Olive herb is appetizing and digestive.

Olive herb as a medicinal herb

The olive herb was used in ancient and medieval times as a medicinal plant. In old herbal books, however, the herb is often equated with the holy herb in terms of healing effect.

At that time, the plant was used mainly as a worming agent and in the treatment of hair loss. Both the seeds and the herb were used.

Olive herb can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • bloating
  • candida infection
  • dermatitis
  • gastrointestinal infections
  • stomach cramps
  • worm infestation

Medicinal properties

  • anthelmintic
  • antibacterial
  • antispasmodic
  • antioxidant
  • helpful against numerous infectious diseases

In medicine and folk medicine, olive herb is used today mainly for complaints and diseases of the digestive tract and more often for certain airway inflammation. The use of olive herb is often identical or at least similar to the closely related sorrel. The medicinal plant is described as helpful especially in the following complaints:

The herb is used either pure, as an ointment as a tea or in the form of the essential oil (Santolina oil).

Preparation of an olive herb tea

Time needed: 5 minutes

This is how to prepare olive herb tea by yourself.
Incidentally, not only the leaves and flowers, but also the seeds of Santolina can be used for the tea.

  1. put two to three teaspoons of the herb in a tea strainer in a cup

  2. dash with boiling hot water

  3. let steep for 3 to 5 minutes

This helps especially well for indigestion, stomach cramps and diseases of the digestive system such as gastrointestinal influenza or cystitis.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy olive herb – What is there to pay attention to?

In many plant centers, hardware stores and weekly markets fresh olive plants can be bought. The plants themselves are relatively resistant to pests, so that diseases rarely occur. Before buying, however, take a look at the planter. Is the olive herb in too wet soil, one should back away from purchasing. Here there is an increased risk that the roots have been damaged and the herb can be hardly repotted. The price per plant is about 3 EUR/$.

Seeds for olive herb are unlike fresh plants hardly found in specialty stores. You will occasionally find what you are looking for on online marketplaces. Here, the botanical name (Santolina virens or Santolina rosmarinifolia) should necessarily be compared, as occasionally the gray holy herb is sold as olive herb. Although this has a similar healing effect, but not the intense taste of olives flavor. The price per package is about 2 EUR/$.


  1. Should I be concerned if the tips are wilting? I bought my Santolina rosmarinifolia from a nursery, and repotted it immediately. Currently misting lightly everyday in a shaded spot to acclimatize cos I live in the tropics.

    • Are all the tips wilting? Maybe you should place it in a warm, sunny place. Do not use too nutrient-rich soil.

      If it is not getting better, you can cut all the branches down to just above the wooden parts, it will grow again. Or, if there are still good, healthy looking twigs, you could cut off some at about 10 cm and just replant them in soil. They should root and grow.

      Hope that helps, and please let us know if it works.

  2. We kept 1 of ours in the greenhouse over the winter and watered it very sparingly: it died. The other we left growing in our rockery near sheffield UK and it is thriving. Our garden is part of a former sand quarry so it is very sandy.

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