Did you know that the Koreans call shiso “sesame?”
(The little Korean grocery is) a very interesting place to shop, me being both illiterate and unable to speak (Korean), especially when I want to ask a question. Last spring, I saw a basket displaying packets of seeds when I noticed a picture of shiso on one of them. That’s the big green leaf you see served with sashimi or sushi in restaurants, and it’s an herb used in many Japanese summer recipes.
Shiso is easy to grow, but the seeds are difficult to find. I added the packet to my purchases and said to the woman at the counter, “Shiso??!!” I had a big smile because the seeds were so inexpensive, and she looked at me and said something in very fast Korean that sounded like catnip. I went over to the vegetable display and showed her a package of shiso leaves. “Shiso!” I said again. “Sesame,” she said slowly in English.

~from a previous post

Names for Shiso:
Latin: Perilla frutescens in the Lamiaceae or mint family; Mints (including shiso, catnip, and basil and others) can be identified by their square, hairy stems.
Chinese: ao geeso (green), aka geeso (purple)-;
Korean: deulkkae or tŭlkkae (들깨 which means ‘wild sesame’; kkaennip, kkaennip namul mean just the leaves. Korean cookbooks translated to English sometimes use these translations. Note however, perilla is not closely related to sesame. Sesamum orientale is the scientific name of sesame in the Pedaliaceae or sesame family
Japanese: shiso, oba ohba, which literally means ‘large leaves.’ Shiso seed heads are hojiso.  Shiso no hana are flowers.
English: perilla, shiso, Japanese Basil, beefsteak plant/leaf, rattlesnake weed,
Shiso factoids:
•• Shiso has a distinctive aroma, almost grassy, quite pungent, it’s taste is slightly bitter.
Shiso has a scent reminiscent of cinnamon and cloves.
—neither statement is quite accurate
•• Many people describe shiso as a taste of summer, just as basil brings warm sunny days to my mind. In fact, shiso is nicknamed “Japanese basil.”
The leaves can be pickled or salted or frozen to preserve them.
•• Red Shiso leaves is used to add colour to ume.
Red shiso leaves can be used to make a pink vinegar
•• Shiso has been grown as an ornamental plant, especially those with purple foliage
•• Shiso seeds are pressed for an oil that has medicinal, culinary and commercial applications
The oil has a quality that is on par with other drying oils such as tung or linseed valued in paint
The oil has been used for waterproofing cloth and even as a fuel
•• Korean perilla has larger leaves, less pungent
Japanese perilla has smaller leaves, green and red varieties, more pungent
•• Shiso is wonderful as a wrapping with onigiri (rice balls), grilled or not.
The leaves can be used in bento to separate different foods.
The green paper grass in supermarket sushi is meant to represent shiso leaves.
•• In Vietnam and Korea, the leaves flavor noodle soups and spring rolls.
•• I ordered my first shiso seeds from Evergreen Seeds.
Don’t cover the shiso seeds: they need light to germinate; just press them into the soil. Also they take forever to germinate.
I think my shiso is growing a little, but it’s been cool and cloudy here so it’s not robust.

18 thoughts on “Shiso

  1. Hi Tess! Thanks for more delightful info about Shiso! Now I really can’t wait to get my new little garden up and running! I’ve also had Shiso Tempura in Japan, but personally have had no success with it myself.

    • Hi Karla!
      You know, I still have not tried to make tempura at all yet! I am afraid of pots of hot vegetable oil. I’ll have to psyche myself up one of these days…

  2. Tess, Tess, Tess!! More bounty. I love shiso THIS much and it almost makes me weep to hear you say It’s easy to grow. Me? I’ve had little success…..and now it’s winter. I tried putting the seed in the fridge before sowing because, because, because. Well I think I’d read that and had no luck just broadcasting the seed. Maybe we lack the quintessential Japanese summer humidity in Melbourne. Do you have steamy summers in your neck of the woods?

    Oh but it’s so good to see it featuring on your blog and read all the precious details. *beam*

    • Hi Carolyn!

      You know, if you have trouble getting shiso to start, is there a way for you to buy shiso plants from a nursery or farmers’ market? In the spring, of course. The seeds take a long time to germinate: need light and warmth and moisture.

      Once you have some plants going to seed, they should self-sow. (my patio garden is so sad and neglected that I got no volunteers this year, though!!!)

      Steamy summers? in se michigan? Yes!!
      But I suspect is is not a humid as Florida would be. Nor Japan.
      I grew up in cool Northern Michigan, and grandparents were all Finnish, so heat makes me wilt. On the other hand, I hate the cold of winter, so I guess I’m a very delicate and temperamental flower.

      BTW, I’ve got the “lost japan” book from the library and have been enjoying it. Thanks!

      • Yes, some kinds of seeds need to have both moisture and light.

        It is odd that shiso will self-sow naturally, but the seeds are difficult to make germinate intentionally.

  3. We do shiso pesto here since we get gobs of it every summer and don’t want to waste it. It makes a decent substitute for basil, which never grows as vigorously as the shiso for us (makes sense since it’s not really adapted to conditions here). We also tempura the leaves, flowers, and immature seed heads. Apparently some people make tsukemono with the seed heads as well but I haven’t tried it yet.

    • I’ve tried freezing shiso, but it turns ugly brown. I wonder if it were frozen with some oil as a pesto would keep it green?

      I think I will try drying some of the shiso. At least some of the red variety—if the flavor doesn’t survive I think the color will. Crunched up it would look nice on rice.

      Or maybe salting it? I read a post somewhere about how to do it…

  4. The pesto turns a little brown but just on the surface where it’s exposed to air. We toss it with hot pasta and it ends up a little brownish by the time we eat it. But we’re not really going for presentation….

    I can’t imagine drying aojiso would keep much of its fragrance, but it’s worth a try. Please tell me how it goes. I think the akajiso would work well though.

    Ever tried shiso juice? Great way to enjoy the brilliant color of akajiso throughout the year (keeps well in jars) & it’s so refreshing in the summertime.

    also, I was intimidated by tempura for a long time, to my mother-in-law’s surprise. She says it’s one of the easiest things you can make. It’s true!! I love being able to turn something like the flowers from shiso or bolted hakusai into a nice meal. Although the shiso leaf tempura is really difficult, not the same as veggie tempura for sure.

    • Yikes, I’d best get going on something here! Thanks for your input.

      I’m behind on things I want to blog, but better to ‘do’ something than to ‘write.’

      Tempura has been so so very much scary for me: deep frying. I have fried sage leaf-s in the past. But no batter or coating on them. And they did not need much oil. I got burned badly years ago while deep-frying so I’m scared of a pot of hot oil.

      I guess if I think about how I used routers and table saws and other power wood working tools, a few inches of oil should be something I could handle.

      I have heard lots about the red shiso juice, but it needs more leaves than I have. My yard is full of walnut trees so the space for shiso and tomatoes is limited.

  5. Pingback: A Shiso Watch—telling time in the garden « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

  6. I have Shiso growing from seed, though they are taking a while.. I got the first plant germinated after more than three weeks, and now have five Shiso seedlings so far! :)
    In spring and summer these plants will be treated to the best attention, and I will have many more from seedlings :)
    It has a wonderful taste!

    • Hi Brentan,
      Happy gardening. Once your shiso gets going you’ll have plenty of shiso for all sorts of recipes. The first time I tasted it, I didn’t like it. But now I cannot think of summer without having shiso.

    • Sorry, but I don’t have a recipe. I’d be curious to know if you find one though: they would be very pretty if the red/purple shiso colored the garlic cloves.


    • Yes, shiso does reseed and volunteer. Even in Michigan where the climate is not so copasetic as it is in the Bay Area…

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