Mastic

Pistacia lentiscus

السريس

Picture resource: By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Status: Common

The mastic is an evergreen shrub or small tree, 1/2 m to 5 m tall, bearing hard, compound green leaves. The plant, which belongs to the Anacardiaceae family, blooms from February to April. It is diecious, meaning that separate plants bear either male or female flowers. Flowering consists of clusters of many tiny, unattractive flowers which have no petals and are pollinated by the wind. The fruits appear in autumn. These are small drupes that change color from red to black as they ripen, and are eaten and dispersed by birds.

The mastic grows around the Mediterranean Basin.

In Palestine, it is very common in the northwestern Mediterranean habitats. It is resistant to grazing and can grow on various soil types. The branches and leaves of the plant contain large amounts of aromatic resin (mastic, Arabic gum) which possess antibacterial and antifungal properties. The mastic resin has been used since antiquity as a food condiment and stabilizer and as a traditional medicine. It is still used up to this day around the Mediterranean in a great variety of foods and drinks, such as sweets, pastries, ice creams and liquors. One of the basic traditional uses of the resin was as a chewing gum, which also gave the resin and plant their common name; in Italian and Spanish, masticare or masticar means "to chew". Today, commercial production of mastic resin is restricted mostly to the Greek island of Chios and a small nearby region in Turkey, where a special cultivar of the plant is grown that produces a superior resin.

Sites: Beitillu, Umm at-Tut nature reserves