Pistacia terebinthus (*)
Pistacia terebinthus L.
Pistacia terebinthus, known commonly as terebinth and turpentine tree, is a species of Pistacia, native to the Mediterranean region from the western regions of Morocco, Portugal and the Canary Islands, to Greece and western Turkey. In the eastern shores of the Mediterranean sea - Syria, Lebanon and Israel - a similar species, Pistacia palaestina, fills the same ecological niche as this species and is also known as terebinth.
It is a small deciduous tree or large shrub growing to 10 m tall. The leaves are compound, 10-20 cm long, odd pinnate with five to eleven opposite glossy oval leaflets, the leaflets 2-6 cm long and 1-3 cm broad. The flowers are reddish-purple, appearing with the new leaves in early spring. The fruit consists of small, globular drupes 5-7 mm long, red to black when ripe. All parts of the plant have a strong resinous smell.
John Chadwick believes that the terebinth is the plant called ki-ta-no in some of the Linear B tablets. He cites the work of a Spanish scholar, J.L. Melena, who had found "an ancient lexicon which showed that kritanos was another name for the turpentine tree, and that the Mycenaean spelling could represent a variant form of this word."
The word "terebinth" is used (at least in some translations) for a tree mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament), where the Hebrew word "elah" (plural "elim") is used. This probably refers to Pistacia palaestina which is common in the area.
Terebinth from Oricum is referred to in Virgil's Aeneid, Book 10, line 136, where Ascanius in battle is compared to "ivory skilfully inlaid in [...] Orician terebinth" ("inclusum[...] Oricia terebintho [...] ebur").
Terebinth is referred to by Robin Lane Fox in Alexander the Great: "When a Persian king took the throne, he attended Pasargadae, site of King Cyrus's tomb, and dressed in a rough leather uniform to eat a ritual meal of figs, sour milk and leaves of terebinth."
It is used as a source for turpentine, possibly the earliest known source. The turpentine of the terebinth is now called Chian, Scio, or Cyprian turpentine.
The fruits are used in Cyprus for baking of a specialty village bread. In Crete, where the plant is called tsikoudia, it is used to flavor the local variety of pomace brandy, also called tsikoudia. The plant is rich in tannin and resinous substances and was used for its aromatic and medicinal properties in classical Greece. A mild sweet scented gum can be produced from the bark, and galls often found on the plant are used for tanning leather. Recently an anti-inflammatory triterpene has been extracted from these galls. In Turkey, where it is known as menengiç or bıttım, a coffee-like beverage known as menengiç kahvesi is made from the roasted fruit and a soap is made from the oil.
1. ^ John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World (Cambridge: University Press, 1976),p. 120
* Concise Oxford English Dictionary
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