Italy is among the world's largest producers and exporters of olive oil. The olive harvest (la raccolta delle olive) is currently under way, and, after last year’s unfortunate season, 2015 seems to be yielding a much more positive balance for Italian producers.

But what’s so special about this natural food product? Well, for years, scientists and nutritionists have been telling us about the health benefits of having a diet rich in olive oil. We already know about its health maintaining properties, and the cardiovascular and digestive benefits of what is now referred to as the ‘Mediterranean diet’.

Now, Italian researchers from the University of Florence have found that one of the polyphenols contained in extra virgin olive oil may prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease; meanwhile, French scientists are also researching the theory that olive oil can lead to improved cognitive function, especially among older adults.

So versatile is olive oil that it can be used as an integral part of both your diet and beauty regime. Walk around any supermarket and alongside bottles produced for use in the kitchen you will spot soaps and creams also made from the humble olive oil.

Here are eight facts about this glorious gold-green liquid that you may not already know:

1. A regular intake of extra virgin olive oil can decrease and maintain both your diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

2. Storing mackerel, sardines and anchovies in olive oil maintains the omega 3 oils contained within the fish.

3. Monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFAs), of which olive oil contains 75%, has been proven to protect against heart disease and cancer.

4. Applying olive oil to your hair will help repair the damage caused by extensive heat and styling products.

5. Oleocanthal, one of the compounds found naturally in olive oil, has an anti-inflammatory action similar to those found in non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen.

6. To maintain the health boosting properties within olive oil, it must be kept in a cool place and away from direct light. The oil properties are protected if stored in stainless steel tins or dark green/brown glass bottles.

7. Five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in your bathwater will leave your skin feeling like silk. Italian actress Sophia Loren said the secret to flawless skin is regular olive oil baths.

8. A study was recently conducted at the University of Monastir in Tunisia demonstrating that regular consumption of extra virgin olive oil may protect the liver from cell damage associated with oxidative stress (source: Medical News Today).

Finally, here’s something for our male readers: Should you find you’ve run out of shaving cream, wet your beard with hot water and massage in a few drops of olive oil and then shave as normal. Believe me, this really works, I tried it with three-day growth and I obtained a close shave with no razor burn and my skin felt great afterwards.

How about some good quality extra virgin olive oil to give a loved one this holiday season? Perhaps complete with a few other Italian staples! Buy "L'Italia in Cucina" Christmas box in our shop