How to Use Shiso Leaves
Perilla frutescens, or shiso, is an easy to grow herb in the mint family that is usually planted in the spring and harvested in the summer and fall, unless you live in a climate like Southern California, where it can be grown year round. Shiso is rather expensive in the grocery store, so it’s great that it is so easy and prolific to grow organically.
Shiso was brought to the United States in the late 1800's by Asian immigrants. It has quickly naturalized and become a common weed of pastures and roadsides in the southeastern United States. Found growing in sunny open fields, roadsides, waste places and open woodlands, shiso is a very attractive plant for the garden, and attracts butterflies and other pollinators.
How to Use Shiso Leaves
Shiso leaves are either red or green. The red shiso is often described as having an anise flavor, whereas the green variety is said to be spicier and more like cinnamon. The leaves are rich in calcium and iron, and are used in Chinese medicine to treat asthma, colds, flu and other respiratory ailments.
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.
Shiso has a unique flavor: pungent and grassy, it contains strong flavors of spearmint, basil, anise and cinnamon. Slicing it into long skinny strips really brings out these flavors.
Most sushi fans are probably familiar with the leaf, but chopped shiso buds are especially delicious. Shiso seeds are packed with aromatic flavor, and they’re especially good toasted and crushed on top of fish.
Shiso is best:
julienned and sprinkled on a simple citrus or mixed green salad.
tossed into a pot of your favorite green tea
minced into or as a leaf wrap for tuna salad—shiso LOVES tuna.
chopped up with fresh fruit (plums, especially).
chopped up and added to roasted or stir-fried veggies.
as a leaf wrap for barbecued meat or tofu.
in scrambled eggs, especially with a generous spoonful of unsweetened yogurt.