Pistacia lentiscus (also mastic; Greek: μαστίχα mastíkha ) is a dioecious evergreen shrub or small tree of the pistacio genus growing up to 4 m (13 ft) tall which is cultivated for its aromatic resin, mainly on the Greek island of Chios. This tree is where mastic essential oil is extracted.
Pistacia lentiscus is a shrub or dioecious tree, with separate male and female plants, evergreen from 1 to 5 m high, with a strong smell of resin, growing in dry and rocky areas in Mediterranean Europe. It resists heavy frosts and grows on all types of soils, and can grow well in limestone areas and even in salty or saline environments, making it more abundant near the sea. It is also found in woodlands, dehesas (almost deforested pasture areas), Kermes oak wood, oaks wood, garrigue, maquis, hills, gorges, canyons, and rocky hillsides of the entire Mediterranean area. It is a very typical species that grows in Mediterranean mixed communities of myrtle, Kermes oak, Mediterranean dwarf palm, buckthorn, sarsaparilla, etc. and serves as protection and food for birds and other fauna in this ecosystem. It is a very hardy pioneer species dispersed by birds. When older, it develops some large trunks and numerous thicker and longer branches. In appropriate areas, when allowed to grow freely and age, it often becomes a tree of up to 7 m. However, logging, grazing, and fires often prevent its development.
The leaves are alternate, leathery, and compound paripinnate (no terminal leaflet) with five or six pairs of deep-green leaflets. It presents very small flowers, the male with five stamens, the female trifid style. The fruit is a drupe, first red and then black when ripe, about 4 mm in diameter.
In tourist areas, with palmitos or Mediterranean dwarf palm, and exotic plants, it is often chosen to repopulate gardens and resorts, because of its strength and attractive appearance. Unlike other species of Pistacia, it retains its leaves throughout the year. It has been introduced as an ornamental shrub in Mexico, where it has naturalized and is often seen primarily in suburban and semiarid areas where the summer rainfall climate, contrary to the Mediterranean, does not hurt it.
A related species, P. saportae, has been shown by DNA analysis to be a hybrid between maternal P. lentiscus and paternal P. terebinthus (terebinth or turpentine). The hybrid has imparipinnate leaves, with leaflets semipersistent, subsessile terminal, and sometimes reduced. Usually, P. terebinthus and P. lentiscus occupy different biotopes and barely overlap: Mastic appears at lower elevations and near the sea, while the P. terebinthus most frequently inhabits inland and mountainous areas such as the Iberian System.
Chios Mastic Mastiha (Greek: Μαστίχα) is a resin obtained from the mastic tree. In pharmacies and nature shops, it is called “Arabic gum” (not to be confused with gum arabic) and “Yemen gum”. In Greece, it is known as the “tears of Chios,” being traditionally produced on that Greek island, and, like other natural resins, is produced in “tears” or droplets.
Originally a sap, mastic is sun-dried into pieces of brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. The flavor is bitter at first, but after some chewing, it releases a refreshing, slightly pine or cedar-like flavor.
The harvest takes place from the beginning of July to the beginning of October. First, the area around the tree is cleared and sprinkled with inert calcium carbonate. Then, every 4–5 days, 5-10 incisions are made in the bark of each tree. The resin flows from the incisions and solidifies on the ground. The pieces of dry mastic can then be collected for cleaning and eventual sale. In addition to mastic, mastic essential oil is also produced.
What is Mastic Essential Oil?
Mastic is a rare essential oil, a “diamond in the rough.” The gum from the mastic tree oozes from the trunk silently and slowly in diamond-like droplets, which harden as they fall to the ground. These exquisite drops are then sorted for clarity and quality. Mastic flavor and aroma is fresh and intense, reminiscent of pine or licorice, and is commonly used in Greek cuisine. It also makes a refreshing addition to homemade dental products, perfumery blends, and skin care products.
This material is obtained by making incisions into the trunk of the Pistacia lentiscus tree. Liquid oleoresin seeps out the incisions, once hardened this material is collected and steam distilled to produce essential oil. The colour is crystal clear and of a pourable viscosity. It is worth noting essential oil is also produced by steam distilling the leaves. The aroma is clean, balsamic, turpentine crisp, dry woody and forest morning pine needle fresh. Therapeutically this material is antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, expectorant.
People in the Mediterranean region have used mastic as a medicine for gastrointestinal ailments for several thousand years. The first-century Greek physician and botanist, Dioscorides, wrote about the medicinal properties of mastic in his classic treatise De Materia Medica (“About Medical Substances”). Some centuries later, Markellos Empeirikos and Pavlos Eginitis also noticed the effect of mastic on the digestive system.
Regular consumption of mastic has been proven to absorb cholesterol, thus easing high blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attacks. Mastic oil also has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and as such is widely used in the preparation of ointments for skin disorders and afflictions. It is also used in the manufacture of plasters.
In recent years, university researchers have provided the scientific evidence for the medicinal properties of mastic. A 1985 study by the University of Thessaloniki and by the Meikai University discovered that mastic can reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by 41.5%. A 1998 study by the University of Athens found that mastic oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Another 1998 University of Nottingham study, claims that mastic can heal peptic ulcers by killing Helicobacter pylori, which causes peptic ulcers, gastritis, and duodenitis. Some in vivo studies have shown that mastic gum has no effect on H. pylori when taken for short periods of time. However, a recent and more extensive study showed that mastic gum reduced H. pylori populations after an insoluble and sticky polymer (poly-β-myrcene) constituent of mastic gum was removed and taken for a longer period of time. Further analysis showed the acid fraction was the most active antibacterial extract, and the most active pure compound was isomasticadienolic acid.
Chemical Constituents of Mastic Essential Oil
The constituents of Mastic essential oil are as follows; 0.39% Tricyclene, 16.97% a Pinene, 0.07% a Fenchene, 1.84% Camphene, 2.43% b Pinene, 0.20% Sabinene, 0.06% 3 Carene, 18.56% Myrcene, 4.22% a Phellandrene, 3.09% a Terpinene, 14.15% Limonene, 2.73% b Phellandrene, 0.07% Cineol 1-8, 0.10% Cis b ocimene, 4.96% y Terpinene Trans b ocimene, 1.33% Isoamyl butyrate Paracymene, 2.33% Terpinolene, 0.08% Amyl isovalérate, < 0.05 Cis 3 hexenyl acetate, 0.17% Nonanone 2, 0.17% a Copaene, 0.20% Linalol, 0.69% Bornyl acetate, 7.16% b Elemene Undecanone 2 Terpinen-4-ol, 4.64% b Caryophyllene, 0.90% a Humulene, 0.89% y Muurolene, 3.64% a Terpineol, 0.50% Germacrene D, 0.66%.
Benefits of Mastic Essential Oil
The health benefits of Benzoin Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties as anti-cancer, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, circulatory, repellent and stomachic.
A number of studies have shown that Mastic’s anti-cancer agent packs a strong punch. A 2009 study looked at the ability of mastic essential oil to fight lung cancer cells, and even concluded that mastic oil could inhibit tumor growth. Mastic essential oil could also potentially be a preventative and a potential aid in a wellness protocol for preventing androgen-insensitive prostate cancers. There was also strong evidence from a study in 2011 showing that mastic is a free-radical scavenger and viable antioxidant.
Mastic essential oil is also wonderful for the respiratory system. It has an airborne anti-microbial action that is greatly needed when dealing with any respiratory issue. It can be used for bronchitis as well as colds and flu.
There are some wonderful pain-relieving benefits that Mastic essential oil possesses. The high monterpene content provide and analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect.
One study has shown that Mastic essential oil can reduce oral bacterial plaque by nearly half while another study claims that Mastic essential oil oil can heal peptic ulcers by killing the bacterium Helicobacter pylori that causes peptic ulcers in addition to gastritis and duodenitis. Mastic’s fresh lightly woody aroma is an excellent breath freshener when used as a gargle or mouth wash. A 1985 study by the University of Thessaloniki and the Meikai University discovered that mastic can reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by 41.5 percent.
Mastic Essential Oil is used in skin care products to treat boils, cuts, wounds, and ringworm as well as an ingredient in blends for very oily skin.
Mastic essential oil is known to be a lymphatic and circulatory decongestant. Because of its vaso-constricting properties, Mastic is known to help with spider and varicose veins.
And, perhaps unique to mastic essential oil, in a study conducted last year and available in the International Journal of Industrial Crops and Products at Elsevier.com, mastic tree essential oil has been shown to have a repellent effect against three major pests that are known to provide a ruinous effect on pasta, when stored, which has a shelf life of two to three years. According to the study, about 13.6 million tons of pasta is produced every year with Italy as the main pasta producer. So, simply from an economic perspective, this is particularly very helpful to Italy since mastic tree’s essential oil can help save that country approximately 4.6 million Euro.
Mastic is a buddy for your belly! The same 2012 study that showed mastic gum and oil to have an effect against mouth odor and tooth plaque also showed that it can work against the fungi and bacteria that cause peptic ulcers. It was also shown to improve symptoms of autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease.
Precautions for Mastic Essential Oil
Mastic essential oil may be mildly dermotoxic for individuals with sensitive skin. Do not take mastic essential oil internally. If you are pregnant, consult your health care professional before using essential oil products.