Perilla is a genus of annual herb that is a member of the mint family. Its most common species is shiso which is mainly grown in India and East Asia.
In North America, it is increasingly commonly called by its Japanese name, shiso, in addition to being generally referred to as perilla. Its essential oils provide for a strong taste whose intensity might be compared to that of mint or fennel. It is considered rich in minerals and vitamins, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods.
Perilla is either red or green, the red perilla having an anise flavor and slightly less spicy than the green variety, which tastes more like cinnamon. The leaves, which are rich in calcium and iron, are used for seasoning, coloring, pickling and garnishing. Shiso leaves can be used whole or cut into strips. Use the flower buds by collecting the seeds at the end of the season to sprinkle on salad and rice. The Japanese, in particular, use the red variety to color umeboshi and pickled ginger.
Perilla seeds form an essential part of the famous seven spices of Japan, which originated more than 300 years ago in Kyoto. Green perilla leaves are often wrapped around sushi or served with "sashimi" as a garnish. They also are added to soups, tempura or dried and sprinkled over rice. Japanese chefs add red perilla to tofu or bean curd dishes or use it wrapped around pieces of meat.
Cultivation of Perilla / Shiso
Site: These plants should be grown, 6 to 12 inches apart, in well-drained, moist soil and have exposure to sun half the day or more. In warm, humid weather, these plants grow quickly and should have their tops pinched off to maintain a neat appearance. Perilla grows in any light from shade to full sun.
Propagation: Shiso can be started from seed in well-drained soil. Be sure to keep seedlings fairly dry until the plants reach two inches in height. Surface-sow or only lightly cover the seed in mid spring in a greenhouse. The seed germinates best at 68°F, though it also succeeds at slightly lower temperatures. Germination is usually quick, prick out the seedlings into trays or individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. Give the plants some protection such as a cloche until they are growing away well. The seed has a short viability and should be used when less than a year old.
Growing: After the first year, they easily self-seed.
Harvesting: Pinch them back as they grow to make the plant bushy.
Culinary Uses: Used as a sweet-spicy flavoring for oriental dishes such as stirfries, with raw fish and sliced cucumber, in vegetable dishes, rice and soups. Red perilla is used as a red or pink food colouring, for pickling fruit and vegetables, especially preserved ginger and pickled sour plums, and as a dried powder to be used as a side dish with rice, as an ingredient in cake mixes and as a flavouring in beverages, as a condiment with sushimi. The sprouts can be used as a garnish.
Green perilla or oba, is used as a vegetable, for wrapping rice cake, in salads and tempura, and go well with sweet potato. The seeds of perilla are used to make oil, and to flavour foods, especially pickles. Seeds (called egoma) can be used on baked goods, like sesame seeds. The flowerheads are used as a condiment. The oil from the seeds resembles Linseed oil, and is used as a food flavouring in confectionery and sauces.