Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~25
Germination tested 12/2022: 86%
Life cycle: Annual
Through our association with the wonderful Truelove Seeds in Philadelphia, we were introduced to a new seed-saving project called the Iraqi Seed Collective. Begun by a small group of Iraqi-Americans interested in preserving the plant varieties of their ancestral homeland, we knew this was a project we wanted to support. Nate volunteered to grow out some seeds for them, and this gorgeous basil was what they sent (along with a coriander that didn't fare as well). The plants somewhat resemble Thai basil or tulsi, and it has a strong basil flavor with some notes of anise. The fragrance that wafts around after brushing past the plants made Nate go out of his way all season to just walk along the row.
This basil was originally collected in Baghdad's Sadr City at a local market called Al-Mustafa Market. It is traditionally included in a plate full of fresh herbs that are served as a side dish to an Iraqi meal. The Arabic word for basil is "reehan" or "rehan", which comes from the root-word for "smell," referring to its flavorful scent. (The prolific pop singer Rihanna’s name is actually derived from this Arabic word for basil!)
We know we still have a lot more to learn about this variety, such as where it was or is traditionally grown in Iraq, when basil became popular in Iraq, and how else it's traditionally used, but we and our colleagues in the Iraqi Seed Collective are hopeful that by making it available here we might get some more answers soon. We believe it's likely this basil was grown both for its leaves and its seeds (which it produces in profusion). Basil seeds can be prepared and eaten much like chia seeds, forming gelatinous balls after immersion in water. There's a history of them being used in the region in desserts.
These seeds were grown by Nate at the EFN flagship farm in Elmer, NJ. 50% of the proceeds of their sale will be offered to the Iraqi Seed Collective to help further their great work.
GROWING TIPS: Grow as any other basil. Surface sow or plant just under the surface, once danger of frost has passed. May direct sow or start indoors earlier. Space plants at least 8 inches apart for maximal production.