Lentisk or Mastic
Botany and Production
Pistacia lentiscus, the lentisk or mastic bush is a member of the Anacardiaceae family. It belongs to the same genus as the pistache nut, Pistacia vera.
An evergreen shrub characteristic of the Mediterranean maquis, it can attain a height of three meters and has opposite, green and shiny leaves. Lentisk is a dioecious tree, flowers on male trees are deep red, on female trees the flowers are yellow.
It is widespread around the Mediterranean basin, and a common plant in Crete, where it often forms thickets. Lentisk is found mainly in the lowlands. The plant flowers in spring with peculiar small deeply red flowers, which contrast beautifully with the deep green of its leaves. All parts of the bush are aromatic. The aromatic pea-sized red-blackish berries are edible.
Greek ancient writers call the plant 'Schinos', as it still is called in Greece. Lentisk has been known for over 2400 years, for its leaves, berries and especially its resin, which is produced by making cuts in the bark in the summer months and collecting the exuding ivory coloured resinous 'tears'. This resin is traditionally produced on the island of Chios, Greece since ancient times. Already Diosurides (75AD) mentions, that the best and most of this resin comes from Chios. Today, mastic or mastix, the resin produced in Chios has the status "protected designation of origin" in the EU. Its name comes from the Greek 'masao', I chew.
As the resin, also the leaves, twigs, flowers and berries contain a small amount of essential oil, which can be distilled. The leaf oil is reported to be more complex than the resin and berry oil in composition, and so far, over 80 components have been identified in P. lentiscus leaf oils. The essential oil obtained from the gum/resin is commonly called mastic oil, whereas the oil obtained from the leaves is correctly called lentisk oil.
We collect leaves and young twigs from Pistacia lentiscus in the spring, when the plants flower. The plant-material has to be distilled fresh, so collection and distillation takes place the same day. A 4 hour distillation yields about 0.2% of essential oil. Amongst the essential oils that we collect and distill, it gives the lowest yield. The oil has a lemony, balsamic, resinous scent..
The red male flowers, making a beautiful contrast to the green leaves
Lentisk essential oil distilled from the leaves and flowering twigs contains typically the main components α-pinene (12.2%), β-myrcene (6.3%), limonene (6.3%), sabinene (0.7%), p-cymene (3.5%), δ-cadinene (4.2%),terpinen-4-ol (14%), α-terpineol (5.2%) β-phellandrene (4.2%), β-caryophyllene (12.3%), germacrene D (7.3%) along with many minor high boiling constituents.
There are no reported safety concerns regarding Lentisk. However, as always, follow recommended dosage.
Principle of Action
Astringent, balsamic, antibacterial and antifungal
The oil is warming and cleansing as well as astringent. Used as a digestive and antibacterial remedy for the digestive system. In toothpastes and skin preparations.
The bush is attributes to Artemis (Diana). Dictynna, an ancient virgin-huntress was a priestess of Artemis, and a goddess in her own right in Crete, where she was worshiped since Minoan times. It is told, that king Minos chased the nymph Britomaris, who leapt into the sea off a steep cliff to avoid his pursuits. She was deified and rewarded with immortality for her chastity by Artemis, who gave her the name Dictynna, lady of the nets, and turned her priestess into a Lentisk bush so that she forever could remain a virgin. Its balsamic, resinous scent symbolizes virginity and purity, the eternal maiden aspect of Artemis.
Medieval alchemists attributed the scent of lentisk to the planet mercury, transcending solid and liquid states, life and death, day and night, earth and heaven.
Pistacia lentiscus has been known for thousands of years. It is another herb known to the ancient Egyptians, who used its resin as an incense and for embalming. Recently scientists found evidence of mastic gum trade from Chios 2400 years ago, when they analysed remains in amphorae from a shipwreck off the island.
Many ancient writers such as Theophrastus (400BC), Pliny the Elder, Dioscurides (First century AD) and Galen (129-200 AD) refer to the lentisk or mastic bush. Dioscurides, in his De Materia Medica (ca 70AD), tells us that 'Schinos is a well known tree, all its parts are warming and astringent, the fruit as well as the leaves and the bark have the same properties. A decoction of these parts is astringent and beneficial for dysenteri, diarrhea and stomach bleeding ...as a mouthwash it 'rescues loose teeth'..and it 'cleans the face and gives it a healthy colour'..
Diosurides also mentions the resin, or gum for its use as a remedy for the digestive system, tooth and skin preparations and says that 'Chewing it, it pulls the gums together' ..
Today, most of these ancient uses are confirmed as well, including its beneficial effect on oral health and digestive functioning, though most of the studies were carried out with the gum. Mastic relieved the pain and cleared stomach ulceration within 14 days in a clinical trial, and it was found that the gum lowered cholesterol levels and liver parameters in another clinical trial. The gum also showed significant activity against Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium involved in peptic ulcers. It is, however, not clear which constituents are responsible for this action.
The essential oil of both the gum and the leaves, however, has shown significant anti microbial activity against a variety of pathological micro organisms. Likewise the aqueous extract of the leaves has shown liver protecting activity in several animal studies.
We have found the oil beneficial in cases of abdominal pains, diarrhea either taken internally (1 drop in a little water, or added to a spoonful of olive oil three times daily) or massaged diluted (2-3%) in a carrier oil clockwise onto the epigastrium or abdomen. Likewise, we have added the oil to a bottle of tsikoudia, the traditional, unflavoured spirit distilled in Crete from crushed grapes. Just 15-20 drops added to a bottle of the spirit, gives it a wonderful balsamic flavour as well as making an excellent aperitif or digestif. In Russia, during the 17th century, vodka was flavoured with lentisk, designated for the saloons of the nobility. Also in sweeter alcoholic varieties such as liquors, lentisk lends an interesting flavour and a digestive quality much appreciated.
In Byzantine times, lentisk was a common ingredient in hair-cosmetics. You can add some drops (7-8) to a 'mayonaise' made of an egg and ca 50ml olive oil and smooth into dry hair. Cover with cling-film and a towel, leave for about an hour and then wash well out.
For an excellent balsamic bath, spiritually invigorating, equilibrating and refreshing as well as leaving the skin well fed, regenerated and smooth, you can add 10 drops of lentisk essential oil to a cup of full fat cream and stir in the bathwater. For dry or problem skin, you could also add 5-6 drops of wild carrot seed essential oil. Likewise, you can add a few drops (5-6 or in combination with wild carrot seed) to an unparfumed face cream for a nourishing and beautifying effect.
A drop on the toothbrush is beneficial in cases of inflammation in the gums, freshens the breath and a gargle done with a drop or two in some water helps with inflammations in the oral cavity and throat.
The essential oil of Lentisk can be used in face-washes and tonics, aftershaves and shampoos (2%). From the 17th century on, it was known to heal dry and chapped lips, it is excellent in formulas such as lip balm or simple oils to treat lips..
Likewise it is an excellent fixative for the scent of other essential oils and can be added to a mixture used in massage-oils for this property as well. Lentisk has long been used as an ingredient for famous perfume creations.
Collecting lentisk is an aromatic, equilibrating balsamic experience. All of the bush exudes this fragrance, and it is always visited by many small beings.. Here we have captured some visitors..
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