The mastic: its origin, why it is called this way, diffusion

The mastic is an evergreen shrub with a strong resinous odor belonging to the Anacardiaceae family and to the Pistacia genus, its scientific name is Pistacia lentiscus and was attributed to it by the botanist Linnaeus in 1753, the generic name comes from the Greek “pistákion”, pistachio, while the specific attribute from which the common name derives is a Latin term meaning “viscous”, with probable reference to the liquid obtained from the incision of its bark. It is a species native to the Mediterranean basin, from the Iberian peninsula to Iran, where it is still very present especially in the coastal regions, in the hinterland it generally does not develop over 600 meters. Among the characteristics of this plant there is that of improving the soil on which it grows, so much so that it is also used to recover degraded land, and the soil collected around the plant is considered excellent for cultivation. Since ancient times, its resin, called mastic, was much appreciated, in particular that still produced on the Greek island of Chios, where mastika, an aromatic digestive liqueur, is also made from it.

As it looks, the particularity of male and female flowers

The mastic tree has a bushy or shrubby habit and is 2-3 meters tall on average, but can reach the dimensions of 5 meters in height and 3 in width, the crown is rounded and very dense due to the dense branches. The leaves are composed, that is formed by alternate, oval leaflets, of a bright green color and in even number, generally between 6 and 10, and this distinguishes it from Pistachio, Pistacia vera, which instead has imparipennate. It has an unusual feature in the plant kingdom, it is in fact a dioecious plant that is each specimen has reproductive organs or male or female. The flowers of both genera have no petals and are collected in panicle inflorescences at the axil of the leaves, they differ because while the male ones have five red stamens that emerge from as many small sepals, the female ones are instead formed by three or four greenish sepals surmounted by the ovary. Flowering generally takes place in spring from March to May and in summer the fruits appear, small oval drupes, with edible seeds, about 5 mm in diameter and red in color which ripen in winter become black.

What it needs to grow and stay healthy

The mastic adapts to any type of soil, the important thing is that it is well drained, and since in nature it grows in poor and rocky soils, placed in the garden it will not need fertilization, in fact it will already find more than enough nutritional elements to his needs. It needs direct sunlight and its heat, but it lives well even in partial shade and can withstand temperatures below zero, even if in this case it would be good to protect it perhaps with a non-woven fabric. It is not necessary to water it, unless the summers are particularly hot, then every 2-3 weeks it can be irrigated with plenty of water in order to stimulate the growth of the roots in depth; instead giving it little water, even frequently, the roots will tend to grow superficial and consequently the plant will be less stable. Reproduction occurs in spring both by sowing, collecting the seeds during the winter, and by cuttings, even if the mastic cutting roots hardly. It is a fairly resistant plant to diseases, but it can still be attacked by mites, aphids, cochineal and powdery mildew, especially if in a poorly ventilated position.

Mastic: The numerous products that can be obtained from mastic

The mastic since ancient times has been used for many purposes, and is still widely used today. As mentioned, by carving the stems and branches, a fluid, yellow resin is obtained, which solidifies in contact with the air and can be collected in granules. In the past it was used as chewing gum to firm the gums and purify the breath, but also to fight digestive system disorders, its effectiveness in this regard has recently been confirmed by scientific studies. It is currently used in perfumery and in dental technology, in the production of chewing gum, to produce paints very suitable for restoring old paintings. The wood, which ranges from pink to ocher with beautiful veins, is highly prized for inlay work and cabinet making, but also to power the wood-fired ovens of pizzerias, due to its ability to quickly reach high temperatures. From the fruits an intensely perfumed yellow oil is obtained, today used as a soothing and moisturizing essential oil, but which in the past was also used for food purposes instead of the more expensive olive oil, or as a lamp oil.

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