Southern Chios is the home of mastiha (mastic) trees that grow exclusively on the island. The resin is used in many different products, including food, medicines, dental products, soaps, cosmetics, and varnishes. The Mastihohoria (Mastic Villages) in the area produce this valuable commodity that was once paid it’s weight in gold by the Ottomans. Mastic resin is still a unique and expensive product to this day.
The cultivation of mastic takes place from the beginning of July to the beginning of October. Farmers first clean the area under the trees and sprinkle the ground with calcium carbonate. Then, every four to five days, they make up to 10 small incisions in the bark of each tree. The resin oozes out like tear drops, falls to the ground, and dries up. It’s then gathered and cleaned by hand during the winter months. The process is very tedious and has changed little since ancient times.
When a mastic tree is planted, it takes until the 5th year to mature enough to produce the resin. I witnessed devastating fires in 2012 that wiped out a huge percentage of the islands trees. Farmers who lost their crops to the fires would have to wait until 2017 to start producing mastic again.
People have tried to transplant mastic trees to many different places around the world, but the only other place the trees will grow is just eight nautical miles from Chios across the Aegean in Çeşme, Turkey. The area has a similar climate and soil conditions.