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In Research to Save the Greek Mastic from Climate Change

Mastic trees
Researchers on the Greek island of Chios are planting Mastic trees in mountainous locations to see whether they can thrive under new conditions. Credit: Greek Reporter

Researchers on the island of Chios are examining new ways to produce mastic, a resin obtained from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), which is native to the Mediterranean region.

The research project, which is being undertaken by Mediterra and the Union of Mastic Producers of Chios, has been initiated to preserve the cultivation of the valuable resin in the face of challenges posed by climate change.

1,000 trees have already been planted in a mountainous region as part of the project. The researchers hope that the trees will be able to thrive in more difficult weather conditions than on the plain where they are usually grown and cultivated.

What is Greek mastic?

Mastic, or mastiha as it is more commonly known in Greek, is a product made exclusively on the island of Chios. Owing to its value, it is often referred to as the “Tears of Chios” or the “White Gold of Greece”.

Since antiquity, this sticky resin, which seeps from the bark of mastic trees, has been harvested not only for its flavor but for its therapeutic value.

Although the mastic tree, also called “lentisk,” is native to many areas in the Mediterranean, its bark only “bleeds” mastic on the island of Chios, making it a truly unique and nearly miraculous product.

Mastic is used as flavoring in many sweets and drinks, most famously in Mastiha, a digestive liquor from Chios. The mastic “tears,” or small bits of hardened tree sap, can also be chewed like gum, a practice dating back thousands of years. Its healing properties are said to include the prevention and treatment of stomach pains and gastric disorders and the rejuvenation of the skin.

The research project

“We are looking for new areas for the development of mastic cultivation beyond those in the fields of the southern regions of Chios,” explained the CEO of Mediterra Yiannis Mandalas. “And at the same time, we are trying to investigate the endurance of the mastic tree in more difficult weather conditions than those of the plain.”

“And all this is always for the benefit of the cultivation of mastic and mastic producers,” continued Mandalas. “We plant and wait… In conditions much more difficult than those on the plains we want to look at how all mastic tree sub-varieties and all cultivation practices perform.”

The project is expected to take about 15 years to implement but 1,000 trees have already been planted. A 60-acre mountainous area between the villages of Pyrgi and Elata has been selected for cultivation. Terraces have been prepared for planting across 18 acres of the plot.

“By monitoring their development as we apply new practices, we want, in collaboration with the new mastic research center that we have created, to have results regarding the production costs but also the yields of the mountainous cultivation in difficult climatic conditions that we are trying” said Mandalas.

Watch our short documentary on mastiha made possible through a grant by executive producer Michael Psaros:

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