An old product with modern use



Assistant Professor

Pomology Laboratory

Crop Science Department

Agricultural University

of Athens-Greece



The Mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus var. chia) is a

dioecious evergreen shrub or small tree belonging to

the Anacardiaceae family

It is cultivated for its aromatic resin on the Greek

island of Chios, in the Aegean Sea

Mastic tree thrives and gives mastic only in the south

part of the island of Chios and nowhere else in the


Fossils of mastic tree leaves found on the island reveal

its existence on the island six thousand years ago

suggesting that its origin comes from this island

Herodotos, on the 5th century BC, mentions that the

resin product from the phloem of the mastic tree was

used for chewing

Hippocrates suggests the mastic resin as a cure and

Diomides mentions its therapeutic usage in his work

The Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides wrote

about the medicinal properties of mastic in his classic

treatise De Materia Medica (‘About Medical


Chios island and the Mastic Villages in the south part of it,

where the mastic tree is cultivated

Mastic resin

Mastic resin has been used as a chewing gum and as a

medicine for gastrointestinal ailments for several

thousand years

Mastic is known to have been popular in Roman times

when children chewed it

In Medieval times it was highly prized for the Sultan’s

harem both as a breath refreshener and for cosmetics

The spice's use was widened when Chios became part

of the Ottoman Empire

Nowadays, about 2.000.000 mastic trees are cultivated

in the south part of the island

Mastic is collected in raw form and it is concentrated,

standardized, packed and traded by the Chios' Gum

Mastic Growers Association having 4,850 members

The Association was created in 1938 to help

commercialize the product and ensure the income of

the growers

The Association ensures the quality of the product by

utilizing modern technology in process and packing,

and by constantly increasing the production volumes

encouraging new cultivations

Geographical Distribution

Attempts to cultivate and produce the high quality

resin produced from these trees in other areas of the

world were unsuccessful

The island's climate is warm and moderate,

categorized as Mediterannean

Average temperatures normally range from a summer

high of 27°C to a winter low of 11°C in January

Temperatures of over 40°C or below freezing can

sometimes be encountered

Rainfall while usually plentiful, varies greatly both

throughout the year and between years

Rain is rare during the summer months, but the

winters are changeable and wet

Sunshine is plentiful, as is typical of the Eastern

Mediterranean, with almost no cloud cover in the

summer months

Average humidity varies from 75% in winter to 60%

in summer


Pistacia lentiscus var. chia is a dioecious evergreen

irregular shrub or a single to multistemmed tree

belonging to the Anacardiaceae family, growing up to

3-4 m tall

Individual flowers are either male or female, but only

one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male

and female plants must be grown if seed is required

The flowers grow in dense panicles or spikes

The anthers are dark red for male flowers and

greenish for female

The leaves are dark green, leathery pinnate and

distinctive for the lack of an end leaflet

The leaves have 6-18 leaflets, oval and smooth-edged,

rachis winged

Blooming time is in mid May to July

Mastic Tree

Mastic Tree Orchard

Flowers and leaves of Mastic tree

leaf of Mastic tree


In studies for the genetic relationships among Pistacia

species, Pistacia lentiscus var. chia was grouped

together with the evergreen Pistacia lentiscus, male

and female

The deciduous Pistacia species (P. vera, P. palaestina

and P. terebinthus) were grouped in a different

branch (Katsiotis et al., 2003)

The male mastic tree gives the highest and best

quality resin


species relationships


Morphological characteristics suggest the existence of

different genotypes in the male mastic tree

The different genotypes also differ in quantity and

quality of the resin production

The four major genotypes of the male mastic tree,

‘Votomos’, ‘Maroulitis’, ‘Mavroskinos’ and

‘Siderakikos’, have distinct phenotypes and can be

easily identified

Different male genotypes


Different male genotypes


Different male genotypes


Different male genotypes


The genetic diversity among the different male

genotypes and the female mastic tree was also studied

using two different molecular techniques, RAPD and


Based on the molecular results, the entries showed

genetic diversity among the genotypes and within the

different individuals

The female tree was grouped separately from the four

different male genotypes

Genetic relationships among genotypes


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Orchard management - Harvest

The mastic tree is an evergreen shrub resistant to

drought, with a slow growth and lives over a hundred


The male tree gives the highest quantity and best

quality resin, starting on the 5 th -6 th year with highest

production after the 15 th year

Care for the mastic groves is a year-round job carried

out by the families of the mastic-producers’ union

The winter months involve pruning and thinning of

the branches, followed by clearing and weeding the

area under the trees until it is smooth

The preparation of the mastic tree and collection of

mastic is a laborious job that starts at the beginning

of June, and is carried on until September or October

The collection of mastic begins with the mastic

producers cleaning the area under the tree

This area is then covered with white clay so that the

tears will stay clear and dry faster as they fall onto

the ground

Cleaning the area under the tree

Covering the area under the tree with

white clay

Different tools used for mastic tree


and mastic resin collection

The ‘kendos’ begins in June and lasts through


The mastic producers make an incision along the tree

trunk and branches of every tree, twice a week, in the

shape of an arch with the ‘kentitiri’

The incision is 4-5 mm deep and 10-15 mm long, a

process called ‘kentima’, a word that means embroidery

A tree can receive between 20 and 100 slits, depending

on its age.

Incision on the tree branches (kentima)

with ‘kentitiri’

Mastic resin

Mastic ‘tears’

When the tears have been coagulated, the mastic

collectors use the ‘timitiri’ to gather the precious


Every little piece of this natural product is collected even

if it is mixed with dust

The resin usually takes 10 to 20 days to crystallize and

the first harvest during the second half of August yields

bigger tears

The mastic collectors start the ‘tahtarisma’ (sifting), the

cleaning of the crystals with soap and cold water, the

drying and the scratching of the mastic tears

‘Timitiri’ for collecting the resin crystals

Resin crystals on the ground

‘Koskina’ for shifting

Cleaning the mastic resin

Resin from the ground (left) and cleaned (right)

The second harvest lasts from mid-September until

mid-October or the first rain storm, while cleaning

the crystals for processing may last until pruning time

The collection is ‘governed by Law 4381’ from July

15th to October 15th, when the coagulation becomes


This Law states that it is prohibited to make cuttings

on gum mastic trees and gum mastic collection before

July 15 th and after October 15 th , every year

The last date can be extended for a fortnight by the

prefect’s permission

Characteristics of mastic resin

Mastic gum looks like rock candy and has a

distinctive taste and chewiness

The product in raw form is available in different

grades, 1 to 5, and in different sizes, large tears and

small tears

The grades define the purity of the product

Grade 1 is the most pure mastic suitable for direct

human consumption

Grade 3 to 5 is suitable for all other uses and may

contain different tear sizes and small tree remains

The chemical analysis of mastic resin:

- essential oil (mastic oil) 1 - 3%

- a- and b-masticinic acid 4%

- masticholic acid 0.5%

- a- mastichonic acid 20%

- b mastichonic acid 18%

- a-mastic resin 30%

- b-mastic resin 20%

The mastic oil contains dozens of identified chemical


Medicinal, pharmaceutical, culinary and

cosmetic uses

Mastic resin is a highly commercialized product due

to its:

medicinal, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and industrial


The most precious of all mastic products, mastic oil,

is used widely in medicine, pharmaceutical industry,

dentistry and industry in general

Mastic oil contains perillyl alcohol, that has been found

to be effective in both preventing and treating various


Although this compound constitutes about only 1% of

mastic oil, it appears to be especially potent and is

currently in phase I–II clinical trials

Mastic gum is used as a natural and hygienic chewing

gum, excellent for teeth cleaning

Traditionally is also used as medicine for:

-stomach ache

- stomach ulcer


- to lower cholesterol

- ease blood pressure

Natural mastic gum has been proven to absorb

cholesterol thus diminishing chances of heart attacks

and high blood pressure, and helps reduce triglycerid

and total lipid levels of the organism

Studies have shown that:

- mastic can reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by

41.5 percent

- mastic oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal


- mastic heals pectic ulcers by killing Hellicobacter

pylori which causes peptic ulcers, gastritis and


Mastic gum is also used as a flavouring for spirits and

liquors, such as Chios's native drinks of Mastichato &


Is also used in a number of cakes, pastries, spoon

sweets and desserts

Mastic is used for Greek delicacies like ‘ipovrichio’

(spoon desert), ice cream (kaimaki), drinks, baked


Masticha is an important ingredient in Greek festival


At New Years, a traditional bread called ‘Vasilopeta’

or St. Basil's Bread is prepared and it is not cut until

new Years Eve

A twisted loaf, called ‘Tsoureki’, is made from

similar ingredients and it is produced to be eaten at


Mastic is also used in cosmetics such as toothpaste,

lotions for the hair and skin and perfumes

Mastic products

resin crystals in different sizes

Natural mastic grounded

Mastic oil

Chewing gum with Chios gum mastic

Masticha dessert ‘ipovrichio’

Mastic pie and sweets

Spoon sweets with mastic taste

Cookies and refreshments with mastic taste

Liqueur Masticha



Shower gel and Body lotion "Mastic care"

Body creams

Skin Care and Soaps

The Mastich shop of the Grower association

Mastich shop

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