Scientific Name: Pistacia lentiscus
Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew family)
Mediterranean region, Canary Islands
40 % resin acids (masticinic acids, masticolic acid and masticonic acids), about 50 % resenes (alpha- and beta-masticoresene) and 2 % essential oils.
What kind of shrub is this? Some bushes have red flowers, others have yellow ones – can't it make up its mind? The source of the confusion is a characteristic feature of all dioecious plants, of which the mastic tree is one: the male and female parts 'live apart'. The male mastic plants carry the deep red anthers in their red flowers while the yellow flowers of the female plants contain the pollen receiving pistils. The evergreen, much branched shrub, which grows to a height of three to six metres, is densely covered with dark green, shiny, pointed leaves amongst which clusters of small flowers appear from March to June. On the female plant these grow into the fruits, which turn from red to black as they ripen. Abundant resin ducts beneath the older grey bark contain a valuable product: mastic resin.
The bark and leaves of the mastic tree are rich in tannin and are used as tanning agent. Mastic resin has antiseptic properties. Its constituents help fight inflammation of the mouth and gums. The resin helps prevent dental plaque and sweetens the breath.
In the past, the costly mastic resin was used as cosmetic ingredient and for incense burning. The incense is said to help strengthen supersensory powers.
In the Orient its antiseptic action was utilised for wound treatment as well as for dental care. It was chewed to care for the gums and teeth. And it was also used to cure stomach ulcers. Maybe this is why it was one of the ingredients of the local liquor known as raki. In the Far East the resin is still valued for its medicinal properties. And even today many sweetmeats are still made with mastic: boiled sweets, sticky jellies or pastries.
Mixed with other ingredients mastic makes a good cement for glass, porcelain and leaf gold and even teeth. In the past the resin was also used as a varnish for paintings.
Today the versatility of the mastic tree brings a degree of prosperity to the small Greek island of Chios in the eastern Aegean. The mastic trees that grow in the south of this island produce abundant resin tears and are the only ones to do so. Rightly so, the inhabitants of Chios would probably say. They believe that they owe this exclusive gift to the holy martyr Isidor who converted to Christianity and therefore had to flee from his enraged father. His flight took him to Chios where he is said to have wept profusely before dying a lonely death, his only companion the small mastic bush beside him which has since then ceaselessly shed its resin tears for him. From August to October the farmers go out three times a week to score the bark of the trees. The resin tears exuded from the wounds in the bark fall to the ground and are collected at regular intervals. The ground under the bushes is therefore constantly cleaned and covered with a special white soil to prevent the glass-clear resin drops from becoming contaminated with dirt.