The fragrance and taste somewhat like anise with a bit of astringency to it. The green leaves have more of a cinnamon taste. Some people find the taste “medicinal.”
Shiso var. crispa has crisp foliage. The leaves can be red (purple) or green. The green ones (sometimes referred to as “blue”) are called in Japanese “ao-shiso” or “ooba”; the red ones, which have purple stems, are “aka-shiso.” The leaves can be bought fresh, frozen or in cans packed in sesame oil.
The plant grows up to 4 feet (1 1/4 metres) tall. The leaves are up to 6 inches (15 cm) wide and 2 to 5 inches (5 to 12 1/2 cm) long with toothy, ruffled leaf edges, and fine hairs on them. The plant puts out flower spikes up to 10 inches (25 cm) tall, that resemble bottle-brushes, with many small pink or lavender flowers, about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) long, on them. The plant will bloom until the frost kills it. The flowers are self-pollinating and leave a seed pod behind.
Shiso Leaves can be used as a herb for garnish. It is used this way in Vietnam, Japan and Korea.
In Japan, Shiso is used for many purposes:
- battered and served as tempura;
- used in pickles such as Umeboshi;
- the seeds can be used as a garnish;
- leaves can be wrapped around sushi;
- dried leaves can be powdered and used as a garnish;
- oil can be distilled from the dried leaves (the oil is used in Korean cooking);
- used as a food colouring, because the colour leeches out into other food ingredients;
- the flower buds can be used as a garnish, Flowering clusters can be fried.
Another variety of Shiso, Egoma var. frutescens, is used for its seeds. They are used as a spice occasionally, and can be pressed for oil. The oil is used in Shinto religious ceremonies, and as a food supplement rich in alpha-linolenic acid (to be taken under doctor’s advice — see Nutrition below.)
Non-stop handling (such as people harvesting or handling Shiso for a living) can cause dermatitis on some people’s hands.
The oil as a food supplement should be taken only under doctor’s advice, because interactions even with things such as aspirin can occur.
Livestock generally won’t eat Shiso; it’s toxic for them, which they appear to sense.
Native to eastern and south-eastern Asia.
Introduced into North America by Asian immigrants in the last 1800s, where it has since become naturalized
One of the synonyms, “Beefsteak”, comes from comparing the large, red leaves to a piece of steak.
One of the other synonyms, “Rattlesnake”, comes from the rattling noise the seed pod makes.
In Korean, called “kkaennip namul.”
Brenner, D.M. 1993. Perilla: Botany, uses and genetic resources. p. 322-328. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.
Damrosch, Barbara. Color and Spice in Perilla. Washington, DC: Washington Post. 16 September 2004, page H07.