The ancient Maya and Aztecs chewed gum, made from the natural latex of Chicle, which comes from the Sapodilla tree. The latex was harvested by cutting Xs and zigzags in the bark, capturing the liquid that comes out and runs down into a collection vessel; it is then processed into gum. The Amerindians of North America made gum from the sap of the Spruce tree; and was then adopted by the European settlers. The Ancient Greeks made gum from the sap of the Mastic tree. In 2006, according to Zahi Hawass, gum made from honey and the sap of the Fernii tree, was found at a site in Egypt, near the pyramids of Giza. The gum dates back about 2,500 years and still retains a slight fragrance of wintergreen flavoring. At a site in Finland, dating back 5,000 years, gum made from the Birch Bark tree was found. As far back as 10,000 years BCE or more, gum from Birch Bark tar was chewed by Stone Age Neolithic people, discovered at an archeological site in Germany.
The different cultures used the gum for other reasons than for the pleasure of chewing. The Chicle gum was used to glue things together and added to mortar. Mastic gum was used as a disinfectant and antiseptic. The gum may actually help prevent cavities because of its antibacterial properties. It is believed that the Mastic gum was used for digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcers. Dr. Andrew Weil agrees that the mastic gum may ease gastritis, upset stomach and can decrease inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Birch Bark tar was used as an adhesive, to waterproof leather and for medicinal purposes such as antibiotic dressings.
In 1848 the first commercial gum, made from Spruce resin, was developed, followed by gum made from paraffin wax; which was more popular than the Spruce gum. In 1860, Thomas Adams manufactured the first gum as we know it today. The Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna asked Adams to develop a rubber replacement made from the Chicle. He could not find a way to make the Chicle usable as rubber, but found it was an ideal replacement for paraffin wax gum. And so is the history of Chiclets Chewing Gum.
The Chicle tree could not sustain the demands for the latex as the tree does not produce enough sap and can only be collected after a number of years have passed since the last harvest. During the 1930s and 1940s synthetic rubber was developed and incorporated into the manufacturing process of gum. Synthetic rubbers include: butadiene-styrene rubber, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, isoprene copolymer and petroleum wax. Some gums contain fluoride. Usually, the list of ingredients on the pack of gum will be vague as to its content because patent regulations allow manufactures to protect trade secret formulas. Ingredients may say: gum base, sugar, corn syrup, natural and/or artificial flavor, softeners and BHT without disclosing what’s really in it. Titanium dioxide may also be included in the secret formula. Titanium dioxide is so extremely cancerous that contact with skin can cause cancer. The ingredients in gum travel faster and in higher concentrations into the blood stream because they are absorbed directly through the walls of the mouth; without going through the filtration process of digestion. Take heart, there is still natural gum available in the marketplace. The website of natural Glee Gum has a wonderful pictorial tour of the harvesting process of Chicle. There is an 8-minute video at Youtube.com that documents the harvest and production of Chicle gum by Maya Indians.
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