Mastic gum (Pistacia lenticscus) is a kind of a sticky substance called resin. It comes from the trunk and stems of an evergreen shrub grown in the Mediterranean (mostly on Chios, a Greek island) and it has been used for centuries to cure digestion problems, improve oral and liver health. Also, it has been used as a natural remedy for pain relief and wound healing. In fact, ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates have described its usage. Other than the Greeks, it is said that Roman emperors also used mastic with pepper, honey, and eggs, to make a special spiced wine.
Where it comes from, mastic gum is often used to flavor liqueurs called Mastiha, also used as digestives. The island Chios is the biggest exporter of mastic gum, which is why it is often called “the Mastic Island”. During the harvest season (which is from July to October), harvesters make incisions in the bark to sap the resin. Since the sap has a shape that resembles a teardrop, mastic gum is often called “teardrops of Chios”. Other than that, it is also known as:
Traditionally used as chewing gum, mastic gum tastes bitter at first but gradually softens as the resin becomes more pliable. Its color will also turn from yellow to white. People describe its flavor as a mix of eucalyptus and pine.
Mastic gum is rich with beneficial bioactive compounds. It contains triterpenic acids and triterpenes, which are natural antibiotics and very good at relieving inflammations. It also contains a large percentage of aromatic terpenoids, often found in pines and rosemary. Thanks to them, it is a very strong antiseptic, and they give it a woody, earthy aroma. Its antioxidants are said to support its therapeutic effect.
It can come in various shapes and sizes, chewed as a gum or used in tinctures or powders. You can also apply the essential oil made of mastic to skin some skin conditions. Raw, whole mastic gum can be chewed to freshen breath or relieve heartburn, while a few drops of mastic gum oil in ¼ cup of water can be used as a mouthwash. But be careful, you shouldn’t swallow the raw-form mastic gum! Also, remember that with the raw product, you can never know for sure if it has been contaminated or if it has undergone processes that may be harmful. To be sure, always go for ones that are certified organic or at least labeled 100% natural.
Unlike raw products, mastic gum supplements can be taken like any other dietary product – they come in tablets or capsules and are usually taken once or twice per day. It would be the best to start with small dosages and increase them gradually in order to avoid allergies or other side effects. Also, this should go without saying… but never exceed the manufacturer’s recommended dose. Also, since dietary supplements aren’t regulated strictly in the United States, always buy mastic gum from brands that you trust – it would be the best to opt for ones that have undergone testing by an independent certifying body. Of course, always consult your physician before starting to use mastic gum, or if you notice any reactions you may have to it.
Other than its therapeutical use, mastic gum can be used for various other purposes, from seasoning food, to making perfumes.
As you can see, mastic gum has a long and interesting history and a wide variety of benefits. In the recent years, many different studies have been conducted to confirm other of its usages. More research will be done in the future and who knows what else it may help us cure!