Herodotus, who rarely missed a beat, was the first to refer to Chios’s unique little evergreen mastic trees (pistacia lentiscus var. Chia) back in the 5th century BC, although a legend says the trees only began to ‘cry’ when the island’s patron saint Isidore suffered his martyrdom in AD 250.
Known as skínos in Greek, the tree is ‘needled’ three times a year between July and October, allowing the sweet sap to ooze as ‘tears’ from the wounds, glistening like liquid diamonds in the sun. Before harvesting (the kentíma) the ground under the trees is cleaned and protected with white clay where the mastic dries on the white clay before they are collected in donkey panniers, then taken home to be sifted, washed, scratched and dried. Some 300 tons of gum mastic are produced annually, supporting 5000 families.
Images by Chios Mastiha, chotda, Güldem Üstün