Rayhan Istanbul (Istanbul Basil)
by Dr. Razzak Khattat
(Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq)
When I was a small boy, I used to plant various ornamental annual flowers and herbs. One of my favorite herbs was Joseph's Coat ( Alternanthera ficoidea ). One late afternoon, I was shearing these plants to keep them in shape while my mother was watching when she commented that there is a more beautiful herb that does not need shearing called (Istanbul Basil) with very fine leaves. Well, as a little boy with broad imagination, I thought that this plant exists only in Istanbul. When I was in my twenties, I traveled to Rome, and guess what, I went out looking for a seed shop. There it was and not far from the Coliseum. I inquired if they have fine-leaved basil, the answer was no, but the shop keeper told me that they have large leaved basil. I got one pack plus other flower and vegetable seeds. Going back home, I planted the large leaved basil. The result was a show-piece that thrilled every one. This time, my wife and not my mother, was using it for cooking, salads and garnishing. A few years later, a friend from Turkey visited us, and during dinner I asked him if he is familiar with the fine leaved basil.The answer was yes, and he said that when he goes back to Turkey he will send me the seeds. FINALLY, I got what I dreamed of for so many years. The plants were very compact, bright green and clove scented. I kept on growing them for several years. After that I made the unforgivable mistake. I planted the large leaved basil in the kitchen garden and the fine leaved ones in the flower borders. I was sadly watching honey bees foraging on the flower heads of both types. the seeds that I collected and planted a year after, were medium sized and lacked the characteristic clove scent.