Basil, Cress, Mint, & Dill

Sama Mansouri dreams up an Iranian sabzi garden at Reyhan Herb Farm

By Anna Mindess


Grower Sama Mansouri took this photo of her CSA bunches right before delivery to customers. The bunches contain radishes and sabzi (Iranian herbs) like reyhan (basil), dill, mint, cress, and cilantro.


A vibrant bouquet of locally grown parsley, mint, dill, and green and purple basil holds a secret: The seeds for these herbs came all the way from Iran.

The grower, Sama Mansouri, 26, started farming only last year, brimming with enthusiasm but without much practical experience. The learning curve was steep as she and two partners tilled the soil, laid compost, built an irrigation system, and planted their seeds on a scant third-of-an-acre farm in Petaluma. Mansouri chose herbs, vegetables, and flowers to grow on her share, and in the first season, she successfully grew and harvested basil, cress, mint, and dill, all from Iranian seeds, plus other crops such as scallions, cilantro, radishes, tarragon, summer savory, and baby Persian cucumbers.

Now in her second season, she has more experience under her belt and more luscious plants and flowers to show for her efforts. She has started a CSA and is taking orders online from her enthusiastic followers who pick up their weekly bunches at a couple of East Bay retail sites.

An Oakland resident, Mansouri grew up in Orange County as what she calls “an indoors child.” That changed when she came to UC Berkeley to earn her undergraduate degree in conservation and resources. After graduating in 2019, she anticipated working in ecological restoration. Instead, she landed a job as a gardener at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley.

“I realized that I actually wanted to farm the whole time,” she says. “But I hadn’t allowed myself to desire that. Partly, because in school, I studied agricultural food systems, and the lesson I learned about farming is that it is just very hard.”

Just before she started farming in Petaluma, Sama told her family about her new venture, and immediately, relatives revealed that her grandfather had tended a farm in Iran. An aunt described how they spent every summer there, eating countless melons and cucumbers and more. “But I had never seen pictures, never heard about these activities before,” Mansouri says.

Mansouri was happily working at the Edible Schoolyard when COVID shut everything down. During her time sequestering alone, she reached out by phone to family members in the Bay Area, Southern California, and Iran, asking them to tell her which food and medicinal plants from Iran she should know about.

“The one thing that kept coming up was that people would speak longingly about sabzi [herbs],” she says.


Sama Mansouri harvests Persian cucumber, kharbozeh (a Persian melon), parsley, and dill on her farm near Petaluma.


Mansouri grew up eating her mother’s traditional Iranian stews and rice dishes, and while she now cooks and eats with a California urbanite’s more global perspective, she also came to a realization:

“I don’t feel full or satisfied or cared for if I go too long without eating Iranian food. It’s so gratifying and nourishing; I’m not sure if anything else fills me in the same way. That’s the stuff I want to eat, and many other people want to eat it, too. We’ve just been making a lot of substitutions.”

Mansouri has drawn inspiration from Kristyn Leach, who grows Asian heritage seeds at Namu Farm near Sacramento, as well as from Babak Nahid, owner of Alembique Apothecary in West Berkeley, who is also Iranian and has a deep knowledge of Iranian food and medicinal plants. As Mansouri described her long-term goal of growing these plants, Nahid encouraged her not to wait, suggesting she might find people willing to let her grow plants in their backyards. In 2021, Mansouri located four yards in Berkeley where she planted Iranian seeds from Nahid. It was on a very small scale; she could accept only five orders per week.

“It was fun and cute and little,” she remembers. “Then I was going back to work full time and was running out of herbs, and when I told people ‘This is going to be my last week,’ some were actually angry with me. ‘What do you mean this is your last week? You just started!’”

It was a lot of work for Mansouri to drive around to four backyards multiple times a week to take care of her plants. “I made like $20,” she says. “I thought, give me five years, and I’ll start a farm and we’ll have a ton of sabzi.” She achieved that goal two years later.

She recalls thinking: “How was I, a 25-year-old urban person with no production farming experience, going to find land and start a farm for the first time, by myself?” The key was finding a pair of partners with similar interests and varied skill sets.

“In the fall of 2022, I chatted with two friends,” she says. “We realized we all wanted to farm, so we decided to look for land we could lease together. That’s what has made all this possible.”

One of her partners, Zee Husain, owner of Kula Nursery in West Oakland, grows South Asian plant starts and seeds for her nursery. The other, Tamika Whitenack, operates on a smaller scale, growing East Asian foods to distribute at community events with the goal of outdoor education. The three found land to rent in Petaluma where each could grow their unique plants in different corners. They signed the lease in March 2023 (and are currently expanding with a bit more land and a fourth farmer).

However, Mansouri was nervous that first planting season. “I got into a panic,” she says. “Exactly how many of these am I supposed to plant? How do I coordinate with the other plants? I worried that there was so much to think about: How could I possibly anticipate the nuances of timing? Then in a moment of clarity, I realized there is no way I could know all of this. This was the just-do-it year, and next year will be the do-it-better year.”


Sama Mansouri harvests scallions and basil (reyhan), the farm’s namesake.


Although Mansouri had high hopes, the surfeit of rain and various logistical problems during the winter growing season made it harder than expected. While she had tried her best to process seeds from her first year—threshing, winnowing, and replanting them—she was disappointed to discover that almost all of the starts she had carefully placed in her petite plastic greenhouse turned weedy and failed. However, she had not counted on nature’s rejuvenating power and was surprised to notice a thick green carpet of fenugreek, cress, and cilantro in her field. “I guess my seeds sowed themselves!” she says. “I realized that even though I introduced the plants to the field, they don’t really need me now and have their own relationship to the land. I’m just there to hang out.”

On her website,, Mansouri has a mail-order seed store with seeds for Iranian plants like shevid (dill), gishniz (cilantro), shambalileh (fenugreek), bademjan (Iranian eggplant), and shahi (Persian cress). She also offers bunches of fresh sabzi, available weekly, as well as a summer CSA subscription that runs May 30 through August 1. East Bay customers pick up their fresh herb orders at Berkeley’s Middle East Market on San Pablo or Oakland’s Oaktown Spice Shop on Grand Avenue.

Mansouri also enjoys providing fresh herbs to two friends with pop-up restaurants focusing on SSWANA (South Asian, Southwest Asian, and North African) cuisines: Helia Sadeghi of Big Dill Kitchen (@bigdillkitchen) and Ali Ibrahim of Tanoor Pop-up (@tanoorpopup).

“Herbs are so central to Iranian cuisine,” Helia Sadeghi says. “At every table, there is a basket of fresh herbs to munch on, and herbs are used in countless Iranian dishes. When Sama first gave me some of the reyhan [basil], it took me back to my childhood in Iran and made me feel so many beautiful emotions. Because that is what food does. We get to feel connected to our home, ancestors, and memories through these precious ingredients grown with the power of love and the magic of the earth.”

As Mansouri harvests beautiful bunches out of the field, she is thrilled that so many of the seeds have come from land that has yielded them for millennia. Her website gives credit for her farm’s name, Reyhan, the Persian word for basil, as it illuminates the connection to longstanding tradition: “My people eat abounding platters of fresh herbs with their food, and that made them strong enough to survive centuries of beauty and hardship.” ♦

Reyhan Herb Farm |

Anna Mindess is an award-winning journalist who writes on food, culture, and travel for numerous publications including the Washington Post, Atlas Obscura, and Berkeleyside. Follow her on Instagram@annamindess and find her stories at


Noon Panir Sabzi: Bread Cheese Herbs

Recipe by Sama Mansouri | Photos by Melinda Katz

Reyhan Herb Farm herbs were everywhere on the menu at Helia Sadeghi’s Big Dill Kitchen pop-up. Guests assembled loghmeh from platters of noon panir sabzi while enjoying Iranian basil cake; kuku sabzi (herb frittata); seeded biscuits with cilantro compound butter; crostini with smoked tuna, grilled corn, dill, and lime aioli; pistachio mint ice cream; plus a watermelon rose refresher and cardamom mint black tea. 


Would you believe it if I told you that I started Reyhan Herb Farm for the love of a single dish?

When Iranians here in California are asked about which plants and foods they miss from back home, they almost always mention sabzi. The word refers to the types of tender and juicy herbs we like to eat fresh. While there have been boxes and cans and bags of dried sabzi available here in California for decades, it’s still hard to find fresh sabzi like in Iran, where you can go down the street to the sabzi grocer and get your fix any day. This becomes important when you want to make one dish in particular: sabzi khordan.

The plate of fresh herbs that adorns the table at almost every meal is called sabzi khordan. When eating various stews and meat and rice dishes, you punctuate your bites with a bit of sabzi. This adds a delicious fresh profile that not only adds richness of flavor but also helps you to digest the food.

In the mornings, we often eat a simple assembly of sabzi khordan, flatbread, cheese, and a few other delicious bits that I’m excited to tell you about. This is called noon panir sabzi (which translates to bread, cheese, herbs). It’s a great way to feed many people. And like many immigrant foods, cooking it involves stringing together a list of ingredients from various small ethnic grocers and guys who know guys. Here’s what you need:

Herbs: My farm grows sabzi for the purpose of making these beloved varieties from Iran available here in the Bay Area. And in the spirit of sabzi khordan, the bunches of herbs from Reyhan Herb Farm are a pre-mixed selection of the fresh and seasonal landrace varieties from Iran. There are Iranian varieties of herbs that are more commonly found in stores—scallions, dill, parsley, cilantro, radish—and there are also sabzi that are much harder to find fresh like green and purple Iranian basil, Persian cress, fenugreek, and more.

Bread: Any type of Iranian flatbread works for this dish. The easiest to find is lavash, but if you check out Middle East Market on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, you can get some special types like noon sangak.

Soft cheese: I usually use feta. Check out French feta for a little added funk.

Butter: Traditionally, we use unsalted butter.

Jam: Iranians love carrot jam and albaloo (sour cherry) jam, but the beauty of this dish is that it is customizable and seasonal. Check out Saba Jam for delicious seasonal jams that are often made with Iranian flavors.

Black tea: This dish is often served with black tea. Darjeeling and Ceylon types come close to what is found in Iran.

Loghmeh: The way to eat this dish is to assemble little bites of it, called loghmeh. From here, you choose your own adventure. You could tear off a piece of bread, press a sliced piece of feta into it, pick off some dill leaves and a Persian cress leaf, roll it up a bit, and pop it into your mouth. Or you could butter your flatbread, drop a dollop of jam in the middle, and fold it around a purple basil leaf before taking a bite. The combinations are endless, and you will surely find your favorite. Now that you know about how to eat it, I can tell you about the last special ingredient:

Connection: You and your family and friends get to sit around a beautifully set table of delicious foods and eat slowly together. There is conversation to be had, stories and dreams to share, laughter, and abundance. You can make loghmehs for the babies and kids at the table with their favorite bits. You can set up the table together, and afterwards, you can put it all away together with the intention of eating together again soon.