The first recorded promoter of Chian mastiha was Dioscorides. He was born in Cilicia in the early 1st century CE, when Nero was emperor of Rome. Although he was a military man, he is considered the founder of pharmacology. He toured the regions of Asia Minor, Greece and Italy collecting and studying plants. He writes that Chios produced the best and greatest quantity of mastiha, noting that it was indicated for coughing and stomach ailments, to sweeten the breath, and for facial masks.
Several years later, Galen, the most important Greek physician after Hippocrates, extolled mastiha’s styptic and lenitive properties and recommended it for inflammations of the stomach, intestines and liver. He noted that the best mastiha oil was produced in Chios.
Aretaeus, a physician from Cappadocia who lived in the second half of the 2nd century CE, left many formulas for poultices using mastiha. A poultice of apple pulverized with mastiha and meliloto (a species of aromatic clover) remedied delirium. A poultice of dates pulverized in wine together with mastiha and aloe helped the patient regain strength after a cardiac episode. A poultice of quince, dates, nardo (valeriana) and mastiha treated an upset stomach.
The Jerusalem Balsam:
The pharmacy of the Franciscan Monastery of Saint Savior in Jerusalem was the most famous in the Orient. It was here that the monk Antonio Menzani di Cuna worked and where after twenty-four years of experimentation succeeded in creating a most effective balsam named “The Jerusalem Balsam”. Menzani first presented his balsam in Milan, in 1712, under the rather commercial brand name “Jerusalem Balsam”, as an unguent to heal wounds. With war raging throughout Western Europe at the time, Menzani’s balsam rapidly gained great fame. In time, it achieved distinction as an elixir for every kind of affliction: abdominal pain, dermatitis, intestinal worms, headache, toothache, nausea, hemorrhoids, heart failure, and even as protection from the plague! Menzani’s formula contained four ingredients: aloe, frankincense, myrrh, and mastiha, dissolved in ethanol. They boughtMastiha from the Turkish sultan. He held the only place in the world that produced it – Chios, an island in the Aegean Sea.
Arab physicians of the day also used mastiha in their remedies. The philosopher and physician al-Razi (868-932 CE) was considered the Hippocrates of Islam. He surveyed Greek, Syrian, Arabic and even Indian medicine, synopsizing all he learned in his books Kitab al-Mansuri and Kitab al-hawi. He prescribed a mixture of alum and mastiha to fill decayed teeth and the chewing of mastiha as an appetite stimulant for pregnant women.
Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi
Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, a physician in 9th century Baghdad, provided a medical formula “that makes those who drink happy”; it fortified the stomach, sweetened the breath, and aided the liver. It was administered before or after food and contained rose oil, clove, valeriana, cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, hazel nuts, and mastiha.
Abu Marwan’Abd al-Malik
Abu Marwan’Abd al-Malik or Avenzoar, born in Seville in 1091, was one of the most eminent clinicians of his time and the son of an equally renowned physician. In his Kitab at-Taysir, he prescribed a preparation of licorice, raisins and mastiha for liver problems.
Late 13th century England saw the rise of a physician known as Gilbertus Anglicus. His Compendium Medicinae mentions a nostrum for the spleen called diacerasus, which contains cherry juice, cinnamon and mastiha.
Giovanni de Vigo
In addition to the celebrated Jerusalem Balsam of the Franciscan monks, discussed at the beginning of this book, there are records of: a Balsam for Itching, created by Giovanni de Vigo, personal physician to Pope Julius II. It contained egg white, linseed, black hellebore, poplar buds, and mastiha powder, beaten in olive oil.
The healing action of mastiha was explained by the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus, in his Der grossen Wundartzney (Great Surgery Book). “The biological nature of man is such that it enables him to self-heal, to re-balance and re-fill. Wounds are not healed by the balsam. Mastiha, resins and other healing agents are unable to create even a fiber of flesh. They have, however, the property that enables nature to work unimpeded to heal the wound.”
Filling of dental cavities
A practical method for filling dental cavities: dissolve 4 parts mastiha and 1 part ether in an airtight flask. The solution that forms has a yellowish color and oily consistency. A cotton bud moistened with this substance and applied to the cavity will fill and seal it.
Lady Webster’s Dinner Pills
One of the most popular laxatives of the 19th century, Lady Webster’s Dinner Pills, was formulated from aloe, mastiha and rose-oil.