In This Article
The Mediterranean Spirit of Lentiscus
The mastic tree, also known as lentiscus, thrives in the Mediterranean climate, particularly in scrublands. Belonging to the Anacardiaceae family, this evergreen plant produces small fruits. The first mention of mastic trees dates back to the third century BC, by Greek botanist Theophrastus. Although it was mentioned in the Roman encyclopedia, its first modern botanical description appeared in the 12th century, observing the plant in the islands of the Aegean Sea. Today, the mastic tree is widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean, including North Africa, Mediterranean Europe, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Israel. In France, lentiscus is primarily found in Charente-Maritime and Corsica. Notably, a tree in Corsica, estimated to be between 700 and 1000 years old, received the Outstanding Tree Award from France. The mastic tree blooms from March to June, producing a small, edible, rounded fruit, approximately 5 mm in size. Initially red and bitter, the fruit turns black and sweeter in winter.
Uses of Mastic
The mastic tree has various uses. It produces a resin when its stems are repeatedly incised, with each tree yielding 150 to 180 grams of natural gum per year. The light yellow gum has a strong balsamic odor and is used in the East for freshening breath and protecting gums. In traditional medicine, it helps combat ulcers, colic, and digestive problems. Lentiscus wood, pink or ocher in color, is utilized in cabinetmaking and as excellent charcoal. The fruit can be consumed raw or used in confectionery in Arab countries.
Additionally, the lentisk tree is used to produce an oil, which is employed in North Africa to make an aphrodisiac butter. It is also consumed on bread in Sardinia and used to treat burns and back pain in Morocco. In perfumery, lentiscus adds a green and fresh note to fragrances, obtained by distilling its branches and flowers. However, its low yield makes it an expensive product, reserving its use for fine perfumery.
Fun Facts about Lentiscus
- The name 'lentiscus' is derived from the Latin word 'lentis,' which means 'slow' or 'sluggish,' possibly referring to its slow-growing nature.
- The resin produced from the mastic tree has been used for centuries as a natural chewing gum, with its name originating from the Greek word 'mastichein,' meaning 'to chew.'
- Due to its antibacterial properties, mastic resin has been utilized in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and even in the preservation of food.
- Historically, the mastic tree's resin was used by Greek women to clean their teeth and maintain fresh breath, earning it the nickname "the tears of Chios" due to its sap's teardrop shape when solidified.