Shiso ‘Akajiso’ is a typical red leaf variety of Perilla used extensively in Japan and all over Asia to season vegetables, rice, soups, fish, etc. The leaves make for exquisite decoration. It is finely sliced with ginger and added to salads, sautéed vegetables, sashimi, tempura and sushi.
Shiso, equally well known as Perilla has a wonderful complex aroma. The taste is almost always said to be quite hard to describe; the words cinnamon, basil, anise, and citrus pop up in the attempts.
The regular Perilla is usually available with either red or green leaves, the red having more of an anise flavour and slightly less spicy than the green variety, which tastes more like cinnamon.
A less typical form of Perilla has beautiful bi-coloured leaves. Sometimes referred to as Perilla 'Britton' and called ‘Hojiso’ in Japan, the red-veined leaves are green on top and deep purple-red on the bottom.
Occasionally referred to as Japanese Basil, it is useful as a flavourful herb in a variety of European dishes. Its flavour and fragrance go well with egg, fish and meat.
Shiso can be grown just to baby leaf stage or left to grow to maturity: the taste is best appreciated raw in salads and sandwiches. This savory herb can be used in place of basil, even as a pizza topping. Wrap around rice balls, cheese or salmon. Chop and mix with ginger root in stir-fries or sprinkle over a hot steak. It is great for sauces and can be used dried to flavour rice.
Red leaf varieties are used for pickling and making juices and even added to sake or shochu.
It is worth noting that Perilla is a very attractive plant often grown simply for its ornamental value. Both green and red varieties resemble a coleus plant. This attractive herb is an excellent addition to an herb garden or can be used as an ornamental in containers or in the border. It has a pleasant odour and is easy to grow. The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies and the foliage will last all through summer and into autumn.
Sowing: April to September.
Start the seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frosts of the season are expected, this is usually March/ April. In hot countries, the hotter the prevailing climate, the earlier it should be sown
Seeds can be sown directly outdoors or sown indoors in pots or trays. Prepare pots or trays with compost mixed with a little sand, about 10%. Make small shallow holes on top at a comfortable distance from each other and drop two or three seeds in each hole. Cover with a little soil and spread a newspaper sheet over the lot. Keep in shade and keep moist until germination which usually takes 15 to 30 days at temperatures of 22°C (70°F).
Once the first shoots have come out, take newspaper off and expose to sun all day long. Transplant the Perilla plants outside once temperatures are consistently warm. Perilla prefers a position in full sun. It likes a rich moist soil that is well-drained. Give the herb plants some protection, such as a cloche, until they are growing well.
Cultivation is very easy, simply water when dry. Water at the base of the stems, not on the leaves, otherwise they will get leaf burn.
Harvesting: 80 to 85 days to harvest.
Harvest the leaves when young and tender for the best flavour.
By August to September the shiso will start flowering. These flowers, if picked early enough are edible. Once the flower has bloomed, collect the seeds to sprinkle on salad and rice. The seed pods or berries of the shiso are also salted and preserved as a sort of spice. They can be combined with fine slivers of Daikon, for instance, to make a simple salad.
To collect the seeds, wait until the flowers and stems turn brown and dry, and shake them over a plate. Remember to dry a few thoroughly and store in cool dry conditions for sowing next year.
Shiso is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, but unlike mint it is not invasive by roots. However, in hotter climes it will self seed. Remove flowers once they have formed if you do not wish to have volunteer seedlings the next year.
Store harvested leaves until needed in the fridge in a plastic box with a sheet of clean, moist kitchen paper. Dry the leaves for use in the future to flavour rice etc.
Perilla is often confused with Basil and used for the same purposes. Gather the edible tender leaves from the plant tops anytime. Gather entire plant in bloom and dry for later use.
Do not throw away the small or damaged leaves. Chop them fine and add them to fresh salads or to any stews and ratatouille. Use larger leaves to wrap around nigiri rice balls instead of nori or seaweed.
Pickle the leaves for saké or add them to other pickled vegetables such as cucumber.
Perilla is traditionally used in Chinese medicine and has been shown to stimulate interferon activity and thus, the body's immune system. Rich in minerals and vitamins, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilise other foods. The leaves are thought to have medicinal value and are used in remedies for asthma, coughs, colds and pain, as well as for mitigating allergic reactions (e.g. hayfever) and strengthening immunity.
The leaves contain anti-oxidants, and the substance which causes the distinctive flavour (peril-aldehyde) has strong anti-bacterial effects.
Grown in the hills and mountains of East Asia (mainly India, China, Japan, and Korea), Shiso appears to have been a staple of the Japanese diet for millennia, dating from sometime in the Jomon Era - a wide window from 8000 B.C. to 400 B.C.
Shiso was originally grown for lamp oil. The seeds of the plant were crushed to make the oil, but this was expensive, so the practice died out when other oil sources were found. Then the plant had a second coming when it was discovered to be an asset both in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. Shiso seeds form an essential part of the famous seven spices of Japan, which originated more than 300 years ago in Kyoto.
Shiso was brought to the west in the late 1800s.
The crop occurs in both red leaved and green forms. There are also frilly, ruffled-leaved forms called chirimen-jiso and forms that are red only on top, called katamen-jiso.
The genus name Perilla is sometimes used as a common name but it is ambiguous, since that term is also inclusive of the wild sesame variety, which is devoid of the distinctive shiso fragrance.
The species name frutescens is taken from the Latin frutex meaning 'shrubby or bushy' referring to the plants habit.
The crispa variety of perilla, has 'crisped' leaves which are curled along the edges.
The Japanese name Shiso is a loan word from Chinese zisu. In Chinese the first character ‘shi’ means ‘purple’. So it stands to reason that traditionally in Japan shiso denoted primarily the purple-red form. In recent years there has been a paradigm shift, with the green becoming the first to come to mind, and the red considered atypical.
Common names include; Ao Shiso, Beefsteak plant, Ji Soo, Perilla, Purple Perilla, Shiso, Wild basil, Wild red basil, Chinese basil, Purple mint.
The name of "beefsteak plant", as Red Perilla is said ‘remind one of a slice of raw beef‘ is outdated and has fallen into disuse in current media, though it has not passed into complete obsolesce.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 650 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 650 seeds per gram Common Name Japanese or Chinese Basil, Purple Mint. Family Lamiaceae Genus Perilla Species frutescens, var. crispa Cultivar ‘Akajiso’ Red Leaf Perilla Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Pink to white Natural Flower Time August to September Foliage Rich ruby red leaves Height 45 to 75cm (18 to 30in) Spacing 15 to 30cm (6 to 12in) Position Full sun Soil Firm rich, loamy soils with high water retention.