Calabria is considered Italy’s wildest region. Besides being home to one of the most secretive and ruthless mafia organizations, the ‘ndrangheta, it also gave name to the Italy’s only psychoactive cannabis landrace strains.

Located in the southernmost part of the sunny, hilly countryside, Calabria forms the “toe” of the Italian peninsula. To foreign visitors, Calabria might sometimes be overwhelming. The food is a bit coarse and very spicy — peperoncino, the local chili peppers, are sold not by the gram but by the kilo.
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As the home to resilient landrace strains, the region is known for its toughness. Calabria’s history is full of struggle against foreign invaders: Turks, Albanians, Greeks, and the Lombards from Germany. But while these guests weren’t welcome, they introduced agricultural products and flavors that have become typical of Calabria and southern Italy: hot chili peppers, bergamot oranges, anchovies, spicy sausages, and, increasingly of interest among cannabis connoisseurs, the unusual red Calabrese cannabis.

These fabled strains are believed to have originated from Afghan cannabis plants in the Botanical Gardens of Naples at the end of the 18th century, and they’ve since diversified in a region with numerous microclimates. For a long time the blush-colored buds were hard to find, but thanks to the breeders of Italy’s own Zoe’s Seeds, this former rarity has a new lease on life with a special hybrid strain, Onda Calabra.

The revival comes thanks to the efforts of an anonymous Calabrian breeder based in Bologna. The breeder crossed a red-hued local strain growing in the Sila Plateau with Northern Lights XXL, creating an orange and citrus taste with some hints of pine and eucalyptus and a typical earthy taste.

Red cannabis

The result is a hybrid strain that merges the heady effects of the local varietal with the timeless genetics of a Northern Lights offshoot. Northern Lights, a pure indica descendant of Afghani and Thai landrace strains, remains among the most famous strains of all time and is cherished for its resilience, fast flowering, and resinous buds.

The name of the new Italian strain, Onda Calabra, translates to “Calabrian wave.” It’s named after a popular song by Peppe Voltarelli, a musician and actor from Calabria. The song was the main theme of his movie Doichlanda, the Calabrese name for Germany. To Voltarelli, Doichlanda is a symbol of a place that offers new opportunities: “Your eyes are a place of the mind. Passing the river, nothing remains. On the beach there are roses, but if I look there, they aren’t roses anymore. Under the never-laughing sky you will be waiting for me, singing. Calabrian wave in Doichlanda, is this a dream?”

The song asks whether Calabrian wave is a dream, but thanks to Zoe’s Seeds it’s now also a plant — and a very sturdy one at that. Many sub-varieties of the legendary ‘Calabrese Reds’ are shaped like Christmas trees and resistant to bad weather (rain and even snow), making Onda Calabra a contender for reliable outdoor cultivation. If it’s a dream, it’s a very pleasant one.

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  • Enrico Fletzer

    Born in Venice, Italy, Enrico Fletzer graduated in social studies from Bologna University, the oldest in the world. After college he began work as a journalist in the free radio movement and went on to write for newspapers and magazines in various European countries and Canada. He has translated several books and movies on medicinal and industrial cannabis and has participated in cannabis research in Bologna, Europe’s former hemp capital, that helped lead to the the Italian army’s cannabis project. He is currently a member of the Steering Committee of Encod, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies.

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