Does This Scenic Australian Olive Tree Farm Hold the Fountain of Youth?

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Over 60 times more nutrient-rich than olive oil, this leaf extract might soon be the hottest supplement on the market.

Tall forests ring Comvita’s picturesque olive tree farm and, this being Australia, there’s a good chance a koala bear might be dangling from one of the branches. Thankfully, the cuddly animals don’t have a taste for olive leaves—but Comvita is gambling soon enough, American consumers will.

Nibble on one of these leaves, and you’ll experience a pungent, grassy flavor. The intense concentration of polyphenols, plant-based compounds that hold vast nutritional benefits, gives off a fiercely bitter taste—but contains an immense nutritional value. Comvita extracts the nutrients from these leaves to create a concentrated dose of the Mediterranean diet, sold in gel caps and tinctures that retain just a hint of that polyphenol olive funk, often hidden by berry flavoring. These gel caps also contain one of the most potent anti-aging supplements on the market. 

Founded in 1974 by a pair of hippie beekeepers, Comvita has grown into the largest producer in New Zealand of manuka honey. Unique, and prized for its myriad medicinal properties, manuka commands a premium price ranging from $19 to $135 a jar, depending on potency. In the last decade, Comvita has diversified to offer a full line of alternative wellness products, from bilberry and blackcurrant eye health capsules to whitening toothpaste featuring a natural substance found in birch trees.

Dan Gentile

In 2007, the brand purchased two olive leaf farms outside Brisbane, Australia. Here, a staff of 18 now tends to 700 acres, and 850k trees, making it the largest vineyard of its kind on the continent. Once the olive trees reach two meters in height, the leaves are harvested by hand and processed into extract the same day. Workers then trim the branches to keep them from bearing fruit. The farm ultimately strives for a closed loop system, using the byproducts from the extraction process as compost.

The trees’ only real enemies are lace bug larvae, which can quickly decimate their host once hatched. On a tour of the fields, our guide knelt down and uncapped a jar of hungry ladybugs that fluttered onto the low-hanging leaves and made a meal of the larvae. It’s a low-tech solution, but they employ high-tech tools to diagnose the problem: drones monitor the biomass growth of the trees.

Dan Gentile

The virtues of a diet rich in olive oil have been reported for years, with polyphenols shown to be powerful antioxidants. They also boost the immune system and combat chronic or age-related illnesses like osteoporosis and heart disease. Polyphenols are 60 times more concentrated in the leaves than processed fruit; so one soft gel pill of the extract has the same polyphenol content as a half bottle of olive oil.

It's understandable to be skeptical of "miracle cures," and regulations restrict Comvita from making concrete assertions in their marketing. But a series of four studies, in partnership with researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Sydney, Reading, and New Zealand, have all shown dramatic effects from the consumption of olive leaf extract. (Each trial was double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, and crossover designed, following the gold standard for clinical health studies.)

“I worked for over ten years for the New Zealand government, assessing data behind new medicines to decide if the government can permit them or not. This is my first foray into natural health products, and in my year at Comvita the data and clinical research is as good as any you’ll find,” says Jackie Evans, Comvita’s Head of Product Research.

Dan Gentile

For the third of Americans suffering from high blood pressure, and the 40% with high cholesterol, olive leaf extract could dramatically help. A 2017 study of 60 pre-hypertensive males showed a 9-14% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and 20-22.5% decrease in stroke risk. High blood sugar also affects one-third of the US, a 2013 study showing olive leaf extract to improve insulin sensitivity by 15% and pancreatic b-cell function by 28%.

These statistics alone might not be enough to earn olive leaf extract a place in medicine cabinets alongside fish oil. But with the growing popularity of incorporating supplements into smoothies and other health food drinks, olive leaf extract might soon pop up alongside wheatgrass on ingredient lists at luxe smoothie shops. (Comvita even suggests two smoothie varieties, a tropical version with banana, mango, and pineapple, or, a green concoction with spinach, kiwi, and avocado.)

Even with its impressive promise, olive leaf extract likely won’t make you live forever—but it can help you live healthier. And as an aside, rest assured no koalas were harmed during the making of this supplement.