The miraculous mastic of Chios
Dora Kitinas-Gogos explores mastic - from ancient times, to the ability to heal
The mastic tree grows in many parts of the world, but only in one part of the world is its resin extractable - in the southern part of Chios in an area called the Μαστιχοχώρια (Mastic villages).
The mastic tree has been very important for the economy of the island from ancient times till today. The mastic villages in days of old provoked invasions of conquerors and pirates. This fact determined the architecture of the island as many fortresses were built in the villages around the mastic trees. In fact the medieval villages in southern Chios have the shape of a fortress.
The history of the mastic tree comes to us from ancient times. It is said that Herodotus (5th Century BC) was the first to notice the tree's resin. Pliny, Theophrastus, Dioscorides and Gallinos knew of its healing properties while we know that the ladies of Rome were using toothpicks from mastic trees because of the property it had to whiten teeth.
In later years the tree became related directly to the island when Chios was conquered by the Venetians and the Genoese: the monopoly of the mastic was the big discord between the two seafaring powers. Laws, and therefore punishments, were imposed for thieves and receivers of stolen mastic. During these times an organization (MAONA) was set up for the trade of mastic, there were even agents whose job was to search ships for any unreported Mastic.
The Ottomans, successors of the Genovese, mandated that the people of Chios pay special taxes in kind (mastic). After World War I, mastic production declined and its value dropped. The establishment of the cooperative "Mastic Growers' Cooperative" - despite adverse conditions and World War II - contributed to an increase in production. During recent years, systematic research, development and promotion have increased sales and reputation, but also the income of the mastic producers, whose interest has been revived considerably.
The tree is evergreen and a height between two to three metres, which grows slowly to reach its final peak in 40 to 50 years. It starts to produce mastic resin after its fifth year of maturity. It is propagated from cuttings off older trees. The tree can be found all over the eastern Mediterranean but only on in Chios trees does nature do its amazing magic to produce the resin.
The mastic resin is a natural product from the bark of the tree. The tree is marked by a sharp tool and the resin appears in teardrops falling on the ground, which has been covered with a white dust as so it will not mix in with the dirt, it is then gathered and cleaned.
The properties of the mastic of Chios have been recognised since ancient times both for its unique flavour and its healing properties. Studies at the University of Nottingham have given us all the proof we need and I shall attempt to cover as many as possible in this article.
Today there is a very sophisticated production of mastic in many uses. The marketing has been stepped up with wonderful products and the wider applications of the resin realised. In Greece today there are mastic shops with products of mastic. These products are exported all over Europe and the USA but have not yet to arrived in Australia. The packaging is beautiful and once you walk into a mastic shop in Greece you want to buy everything.
Since 1997 Chios mastic has been designated as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in the European Union. A PDO is a characterised product, whose characteristics are essential or exclusive to the geographical environment.
Mastic can be found in a variety of products for food, hygiene and for healing. They can be found in and used for: beverages; cakes; pastries; jams; ice cream; chocolate; chewing gum; lollies; tea; coffee; milk; pasta; sauces; liqueurs; ouzo; food supplements; oral hygiene products; surgical thread; dressings for burns; dental-yarn; and also as a natural preservative for food.
Therapeutic properties of mastic can be used for and as: strong anti-inflammatory action therefore terminating the inflammation of certain organs as in periodontal disease; oesophagitis; gastritis; duodenal ulcer; colitis; and haemorrhoids. It can be used to prevent the appearance of symptoms such as indigestion and bloating. In addition chewing mastic chewing gum facilitates digestion. The gum is still used to soften tumours in the rectum, breast, liver, the parotid gland, stomach, intestine and oesophagus, and even diarrhoea in children. Additionally, it is analgesic, softens a cough, astringent, and builds blood cells, diuretic, and appetite enhancer. The mastic is also cited as the traditional antidote against abscesses, acne, ulcers and some cancers, malignant pustules, warts, gingivitis, halitosis and many more.
The studies at the University of Nottingham say that even a minimal dose of (1 mg daily for two weeks) of mastic can heal peptic ulcer, (caused by a bacteria), with its antimicrobial action, and so is its effect on the liver function, it stimulates the detoxifying activity, absorbing cholesterol, whose concentration in blood is reduced, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
There have been further studies on the benefits of mastic by other universities and the amount of information I found was extraordinary and in many ways very technical so I have opted to give you the daily applications.
There has been a great interest in the use of mastic in cosmetics and related products. Mastic toothpaste helps the whitening of teeth, it is used in sunscreen and against sunburn as it is used for burns, deodorant, beauty soap, face creams, cleansers, skin tonics, preparations to strength hair, protect against irritation of the scalp. Cosmetic companies are using the Mastic oil as an essential oil for perfumes and the face creams restore the structures of collagen and skin elasticity.
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