pierre laszlo

Mastic tree
Partridges are prone to seeking shelter within these shrubs, of a balsamic and somewhat acrid smell. Mastic trees, also known as lentisks have provided mankind with the original chewing gum, centuries before the Americas were discovered and the chicle gum became used for this purpose. Pistacia lentiscus, a relative of the pistaccio tree,grows in Mediterranean countries from the Maghreb to Greece and Turkey. However, production is the traditional province of the Greek island of Chios. Harvest occurs during summer. Production of the mastic gum is stimulated by incision of the trunk and of the branches. The cuts are about half-a-centimeter deep and one to 1.5 cm long. Drops of mastic gum are then collected and set to solidify on litters of straw within wooden boxes. The trade in mastic was started by the Genoese during their ownership of Chios, between 1346 and 1566. At that time, it was a prized delicacy from London to Moscow. The Genoese set-up an oversight body in Chios proper, to both organize production and ensure stability of the price. In the sixteenth century, Turks displaced the Genoese in the eastern Mediterranean. In their harems, elegant ladies would chew mastic gum for hours on end. To this day, about two dozen villages, only on the southern part of Chios, preserve the monopoly of the production of mastic gum. This region is named, for that reason, Mastichochoria.  

My book, in French, Copal benjoin colophane … , Le Pommier, Paris, 2007, provides more information on the lentisk.