The famous Mastic Trees of Chios, in Greece: The mastic trees are the trademark of Chios and the main source of income for many residents of the island. Its cultivation started in ancient times and they produce a rare resin that is largely exported. The mastic trees of Chios provide a resin that comes out from their bark in the shape of teardrops. This resin is used for the elaboration of different products, especially a very unique chewing gum, as well as quality spices, alcoholic beverages, and sweets.
An interesting detail about the mastic trees is that they grow in many parts of the world but the only place where they elaborate its resin is in Chios. It is not very clear when the cultivation of these trees on the island started, but it is known that Herodotus was the first to notice their resin, around the 5th century BC.
There is even a medieval legend that explains the reason behind this phenomenon, according to which the mastic trees started crying as an expression of lament when Agios Isidoros was severely tortured by the Romans on the island. Note also that when Christopher Columbus visited the island in the 15th century, mastic had already become the trademark of Chios.
The mastic trees of Chios were so important from the economic view that it provoked invasions of conquerors and pirates. This fact determined the architecture of the island, as many fortresses were built in the villages around the mastic trees. In fact, the Medieval Villages in southern Chios have the shape of a fortress. The good part was that during the Genoese and Turkish invasions, the villages where mastic trees grew enjoyed some privileges and a quote of freedom, which softened the severity of these rulers.
In our days, the mastic trees are still exploited. Although they live more than 100 years, they provide resin from their 5th year until their 70th. The care of the mastic groves extends over the whole year since they grow in summer, but during the winter months, it is necessary to prune and thin the branches. Around June, the surrounding ground is cleaned from weeds and it is spread with sieved white soil. This avoids the resin to get dripped and dried into the brown soil or to get darkened.
Then, between July and October, the harvesting of the resins takes place. This procedure is called "Kentima" and consists of making small incisions twice a week, from 20 to 100 incisions, depending on the age of the tree- on the bole and the branches of the trees, in order to allow the liquid mastic gum to flow outside.
Although it becomes more solid when getting in contact with the air, its total crystallization takes from 15 to 30 days, after which the collection of the bigger mastic takes place, one by one, in mid-August. Then, there is a second harvest in which the thin ones are collected, one by one as well, in early September. The manual execution makes from the harvesting, a much elaborated and long process. Moreover, the crystals must be cleaned before being processed, which in some cases extends for over the pruning period.
Today the mastic is the main source of income for about 5,000 families in southern Chios and 90% of the product is exported. Another thing to mention is that the Chios Mastic Gum has been established by the European Union as an exclusively Greek product and only Greece has the right to produce it.