Appearance''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 , 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 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'' . 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.
Distribution''Pistacia lentiscus'' is native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Iberian peninsula in the west through southern France and Turkey to Iraq and Iran in the east. It is also native to the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from the Greek verb ''mastichein'' or ''massein'' .
Within the European Union, mastic production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin and protected geographical indication names. Although the tree is native to all of the Mediterranean region, only on southern Chios is the mastic trees' bark scored to "weep" the masticha resin. The island's mastic production is controlled by a co-operative of medieval villages, collectively known as the 'Mastichochoria' , which are also located in the southern part of Chios.
EvolutionThe resin is collected by bleeding the trees from small cuts made in the bark of the main branches, and allowing the sap to drip onto the specially prepared ground below. The harvesting is done during the summer between June and September. After the mastic is collected, it is washed manually and is set aside to dry, away from the sun, as it will start melting again.
Mastic resin is a relatively expensive kind of spice; it has been used principally as a chewing gum for at least 2,400 years....hieroglyph snipped... The flavour can be described as a strong, slightly smoky, resiny aroma and can be an acquired taste.
Some scholars identify the ''bakha'' בכא mentioned in the Bible—as in the Valley of Baca of Psalm 84—with the mastic plant. The word ''bakha'' appears to be derived from the Hebrew word for crying or weeping, and is thought to refer to the "tears" of resin secreted by the mastic plant, along with a sad weeping noise which occurs when the plant is walked on and branches are broken. The Valley of Baca is thought to be a valley near Jerusalem that was covered with low mastic shrubbery, much like some hillsides in northern Israel today. In an additional biblical reference, King David receives divine counsel to place himself opposite the Philistines coming up the Valley of Rephaim, southwest of Jerusalem, such that the "sound of walking on the tops of the ''bakha'' shrubs" signals the moment to attack .
Mastic is known to have been popular in Roman times when children chewed it, and in Medieval times, it was highly prized for the Sultan's harem both as a breath freshener and for cosmetics. It was the Sultan's privilege to chew mastic, and it was considered to have healing properties. The spice's use was widened when Chios became part of the Ottoman Empire, and it remains popular in North Africa and the Near East.
The Mastichochoria are located in the southern part of Chios.
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