Olive trees at Hillcrest Ranch

The UC Botanical Gardens is holding a series of workshops this month that exhibit the wonders of the olive.

On Sunday, people can learn how to make soap from olive oil. On November 21, there will be lessons on how to brine olives.

According to Deepa Natarajanhe, Botanical Gardens’s program and tour coordinator, the two workshops are part of an effort to draw more people to the gardens which are located on Centennial Drive in Berkeley, above the football stadium. The gardens have long offered classes on plants and gardening, but now has a schedule of classes which touch on food and other products made from plants, she said.

“In the past few years we have done more hands-on work related to food,” said Natarajan. “We’ve had classes on using plants for making medicine or for making natural dyes. They have been very popular.”

Kathleen Elliot, who runs Hillcrest Ranch, a 6.5-acre olive farm in Sunol with 137 trees, will lead the workshops. Hillcrest Ranch, which was started by Elliot’s aunt, Grace Elliot, in the early 1900s, produces seven to eight tons of olives each year. Elliot makes olive oil – and some soap – from the olive trees. Her products are sold in farmers markets and stores around the Bay Area, including the store at the Botanical Gardens.

Soap making is fairly straightforward, said Elliot. Olive oil is mixed with other ingredients and it becomes a pudding-like substance. Once it is mixed, the substance needs to cure for about a month to harden. Elliot will bring the fresh olives to cure as well. She uses a salt brine to cure the olives, which have to sit for a few months before they are edible.

“Last year she (Elliot) brought olives that were just picked,” said Natarajan. “She taught people how to sort out the olives and everyone got to take home a jar.”

Natarajan just ate the batch she made last year and said they were delicious.

For more information about the workshops, look here.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...