My fingers are sticky with white resin as I press the powder into the capsule-maker. The sweet pungent Mastíkha scent is intoxicating, and my mind meanders back to this missed encounter with the mastic tree. A time of travels in fog, despair and sickness.
The bell wakes me up, and the announcement in English follows the fast recording in Greek: “We are now arriving at the port of Chios. All passengers with final destination to the island of Chios, please proceed to disembark immediately. I repeat, we have arrived on Chios.”
I emerge just enough to feel the burning bright lights and hide back under my sleeping bag. Here I am touching the island where I had initially planned to stay, a few months ago, and I am on this parallel journey now, and heading home.
“Mastíkha!” I hear the man’s monotonous voice, walking up and down the flats of stairs, along the decks where passengers lay fast asleep. “Mastíkha!” Other men are also coming and going in the corridors and I can follow their fast pace and their shouts fading in and out.
They are selling pastries and liqueur made from the resin of that local tree. A very special treat since the mastic that produces the most abundant resin only grows on the island of Chios.
“Mastíkha!” The litany reminds me of the encounter that did not happen. The farm I did not go volunteer at. The aromatics that did not shroud and embrace me. The life of the leaves and bark and sap that I did not feel. But the mastic trees followed me anyway. I close my eyes. I don’t want any candies. Tucked in my backpack are containers of the semi-translucent and brittle odorant miracle.
Mastíkha first came my way on a sunny afternoon, while I watched mindlessly the empty sailboats dancing in the port. It came as a spoonful of overly sweet paste, much like an opaque white toffee, served in water alongside Turkish coffee. The flavor stuck with me and I had no idea at the time that it was a beckoning from Mastic. I had heard about mastic gum, a specialty of Chios island. I did not know of its medicinal properties.
Two stressful months later, the excessive daily diet of meat, white bread and caffeine had brought such imbalance that I found myself in a herb shop looking for slippery elm to soothe an ulcerated stomach lining and tame the acid reflux that was bothering me. No slippery elm there, but pieces of the Chios resin for sale! After the first two days of mastic medicine, the gastric reflux stopped. I could not believe it. A quick research confirmed my experience.
I had just met Pistacia lentiscus.
In the Mediterranean, mastic shrubs have been bled and their sap chewed on for some 3000 years. A little more time-tested than the antacid pills who grow in labs and live on drugstore shelves nowadays. Acid suppressing drugs are known to disrupt the production of digestive enzymes, increase bacterial overgrowth and prevent proper nutrient absorption. Like it often happens in conventional medicine, the short-term relief created by lowering stomach acid covers up the underlying source of the problem and makes it worse.
A major underlying source of gastric problems is Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes peptic ulcers in the stomach. Turns out that Mastic has been found incredibly effective at eliminating H. pylori, thus helping restore gut and stomach health. Antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, the resin is helpful at treating a wide range of digestive issues, from minor to severe and chronic conditions like GERD, IBS and CROHN’s disease.
My mind flutters back for a moment into the astonishing healing experience, and browses even further back into that afternoon on the west coast of Turkey, where I was beckoned by Mastíkha. I shake off my thoughts and find myself covered in the powder of freshly ground resin, delighted by the smell of this pure white miracle. I cannot be grateful enough for the centuries of knowledge that brought me the tears of Chios in a glass of water.