Native to eastern Asia from the Himalayas of India through China and Korea to Japan, perilla was brought to North America by Korean & Japanese immigrant workers in the 1800’s who called it shiso or Japanese basil. A naturalized annual particularly in the Ozark and Blue Ridge Mountains, it was later found in wooded areas near camps where Japanese-Americans were held during WWII and became known as the “beefsteak” weed in much of the Midwest. A member of the mint family, perilla readily reseeds prolifically if the seed heads are not removed regularly.
There are two popular forms of perilla with spiked leaves that are ruffled or smooth and come in shades of purple (often called red) and a brilliant green. The red perilla is more ornamental and is often confused with the purple basils. The green perilla is preferred for its culinary flavor which is much spicier and more lemony. A third form of perilla comes from Vietnam called tai to with flat leaves that are green on top and a dusty garnet on the bottom. All the perillas are easy grown annuals that thrive in full sun or light shade and require very little care. It grows well from seed sown outside after the last frost or started indoors, but the seed has a short viability and should be used when less than a year old. Perilla can grow to about 3 feet, but should be pinched back a bit to keep it compact and bushy. Near the end of the season, it sends up attractive slender spikes of small lavender-white flowers that give way to sweet-tasting seeds.
Only used fresh, the flavor of the leaves of perilla have been described as a combination of cinnamon, basil, mint and citrus. Indispensable in Asian cuisine, it is used in salads, tempura, fish dishes and soups and the red perilla is used in particular to produce colored pickled ginger which is served with sushi and pickled Japanese plums. The tender leaves may be used in savories like mint or basil but add just before serving, added to coleslaw or wrapped around grilled meat or shrimp for a tasty appetizer. The edible flowers are used as a garnish for soups and the seeds are toasted and salted for snacks or ground and used as a spice. The foliage can also be converted into a food coloring and perilla’s essential oil is often used as a flavoring.
Perilla is attractive in the garden or containers
and combines well with silver-leaved herbs, red basil
and chili peppers as well as Shasta daisies
4oz peeled gingerroot
1/c rice vinegar
2Tbs sake & rice wine
6 red perilla leaves
Slice ginger thin then blanch for 1 minute in boiling water. Bring vinegar, sake & rice wine and sugar to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Cool. Put ginger into canning jar layered with perilla leaves and pour cooled liquid over all. Cover and let flavors marry for 5 days in the refrigerator before serving. Keeps 1 month
16oz silken tofu
2Tbs rice vinegar
1tsp curry powder
2 1/2Tbs vegetable oil
1 1/2Tbs sesame oil
2 1/2Tbs finely chopped green perilla with stems removed
lemon juice, sea salt & cayenne pepper
Puree the first 6 ingredients then add lemon juice, salt and cayenne to taste. Allow flavors to meld for 15 mins before serving with rice crackers or vegetable crudites.
"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.
I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”