Pistacia lentiscus, more commonly known as the mastic tree, is an aromatic shrub or small tree that grows 1 -6 m high and produces an aromatic resin. Its branches spread wide and its trunk has a dark or light grey colour, depending on its age. Its trunk is formed by asymmetrical rhytidomes (the bark’s outer layer) which look like wrinkles similar to a pine tree’s but with a heavy resin fragrance. It is a dioecious plant whose leaves are compound and comprise of leathery leaflets with a smooth deep-green surface. The mastic tree has separate male and female plants, arranged in ear-like lobes and blossoming takes place from March to June. Its fruit is small, first red and then black when ripe.
The mastic tree is a very common species in the Mediterranean. It grows on rocky hills, in pine forests and on sand dunes. It is draught-resistant and can survive on poor quality soil, saline environments and can withstand frost while it prefers sunny areas. It can grow on any land as long as it has basic ventilation and moisture. It can resist pollution and draught but can be easily damaged by freeze at temperatures below -5C°.
We can find the mastic tree almost anywhere in Corfu: from the Venetian-Corfiot olive groves to the sandy areas of the Korrision lagoon and up to the coastal plains of Mount Pantokrator.
The mastic tree’s leaves become excellent feed for domestic animals and shepherds use its wood to carve traditional canes or other tools. Fishermen use it to make pegs to attach the oars of their boats, oarlocks or hoops for their fish nets.
Hippocrates believed that pistacia lentiscus, the mastic tree, was excellent medicine for gynecological problems (cervix ulcer) and could soothe hysteria.
Dioscurides maintained that it was a styptic agent and recommended it as medication for haemoptysis (coughing of blood), diarrhea and dysentery. According to Dioscurides, its resin could be used as an upset stomach remedy.