Shiso Watch 2012

While I have been studying Japanese cooking over the past few years, shiso has become a significant flavor of summer. It’s easy to grow, and can be used to garnish sushi and all manner of other meals. I have only two plants this year in a broken but still usable plastic pot. I thought it would be of interest to see how well they grow over this season and what use I can make of the leaves.
I’ll add to this post over the summer and early autumn, as the plants grow (I hope!), and the recipes I use with shiso.
In the meantime, here are a few past recipes in which shiso played a major chord.

16 June 2012 Bloomsday

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. “

more shiso leaves are getting larger, though some have been snacked on by insects

Mr. Tess is mowing the lawn: despite the dry weather, the grass is growing vigorously.

The cilantro is vigorous. It’s hard to see, but the shiso is growing taller. Sorry for the indistinct photo…

12 June 2012

The weather has been mostly pleasant with a few very hot days. But there has been no rain for weeks so I must keep watering the plants in the containers. The plastic containers are old, and somewhat cracked, and the soil has seeds of weeds beginning to grow. Mostly it is purslane, which is good to eat.

The shiso is beginning to develop large leaves.

The ramshackle mess of the previous owner’s vegetable garden.

The shiso is branching out. The cilantro is becoming robust.

4 June 2012

This is an uncontrolled documentation (both time and placement/angle of the camera) of the shiso and other herbs I’m growing in containers at the edge of my patio. As a result, I see that perhaps growth from time to time is difficult to notice. After I took these photos, I pinched out the center growth tips, the tiny leaves at the top of each set of larger leaves. This is done with many kinds of plants to encourage more branching of stems: it makes the plant bushy-er as it matures.

16 May 2012, and 4 June 2012

Mr. Tess went to the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market one Saturday in May. I cautioned him not to buy too many plants, but shiso is a must. Our vegetable garden is a complete mess: falling down fences, overgrown with weeds, and the “raised beds” nailed together 2 by 4’s are disintegrating with dangerous potential tetanus popped out upright nails.

He bought a pair of small shiso plants, and a pair of small cilantro plants from Renaissance Acres’ stall.

baby shiso in a pot from A2 Farmers’ Market

cilantro, not planted until 4 June

rosemary, trailing and upright, year 3 needs repotting


9 thoughts on “Shiso Watch 2012

  1. Tess if you grow the red shiso too you can make a delicious cordial. It is good as a dye too for white cotton – you will get a baby pink or a deeper rose with longer steeping. Look forward to seeing the fresh green shiso in your dishes.

    • Carolyn,
      I planted some red shiso seeds in the same pot as the green shiso plants, but didn’t mention it to J. He helpfully scraped away the purslane “weeds” that were beginning to germinate, along with the red shiso. Oh well. There is probably red shiso at the old house: it comes up as volunteers, though I think it mixed genes with the green I had there. I’ve always wanted to try the shiso cordial. It was very popular on food blogs a few years ago. Such a lovely color…

  2. Where do you live? I’e been trying to grow shiso in Chicago with no success. I am about to plant seeds for this year and would welcome any advice.

    • Hi Rick,

      I live in SE Michigan.

      I started growing shiso with plants I purchased at an early summer farmers’ market, then allowed to go to seed at the end of the season (as well as using some of the leaves, of course) in a container on my bluestone patio. The following late spring/early summer, volunteers came up between the patio stones.

      I transplanted some of those 2nd year volunteers to a raised bed in the back of my yard, and also bought some seeds from a Korean grocery.

      The Korean seed packet had a picture of red shiso on it. The Korean clerks said shiso is called something that sounds like “catnip.” Their English translation was “sesame.” And to confuse things even more, that little neighborhood store sells large green leaves which look exactly like the shiso I could buy at a Japanese grocery.

      At any rate, the Korean “sesame” seeds indicated that they needed warm soil and exposure to sunlight in order to germinate. Moisten the soil, rough it up, then sprinkle the seeds on top. Leave it alone. The seeds can take a long time to germinate! Mist or very gently sprinkle if you have no rain. They may germinate very slowly: like 3 weeks.

      I also bought online, some green Japanese sesame seeds and followed the same instructions.

      In both cases, the germination rate was not high. Don’t remember: maybe 30 to 40%???

      Later years, with the raised bed, the red and green shiso seemed to interbreed but multiply in number. Red-green shiso, not just red or just green. Plenty of volunteers to transplant and grow on…

      We moved last year or so, and the garden where my shiso grew last year is a dangerous mess with poorly constructed raised beds overgrown and dangerous. So I started over, getting plants from a farmer’s market and planting them in a container on the patio.

      Thinking about my post, I should really say that shiso is easy to grow and in an isolated area will return year after year.

      I hope this helps?


      • Tess,
        Thanks so much for replying. I followed your advice for the shiso seeds. I’ll let you know how things progress. Planting day was 6/20 so we’ll see starting next Wednesday. I followed the Japanese instructions on the seed packet last year; they dealt mostly with fertilizers and not much with how to plant the seeds.
        Thanks again

        • Hi Rick,
          I hope your shiso grows! I’ve heard from other people that it is difficult to get it started from seed. Interesting about the fertilizers: I’ve never given my shiso anything besides the usual compost (or half composted stuff) in the spring…
          My goals this year are very modest: there is so much other work to do with this house that the overgrown, ruined garden is at the bottom of the to-do list.

  3. Tess,
    Good news, I think. The seeds I told you that I planted have started to grow and look like shiso. They may be weeds, but they’re weeds that look like shiso. I’m keeping the ground in the pot watered daily, but my wife feels we should lay back on the water.
    I’m going to transplant at some point. Any suggestions?
    Thanks again!

    • Hi Rick,

      I don’t know what it’s been like in Chi-town, but we went on a short vacation to Missouri over the Fourth and the temps there were in the 100’s. My cat sitter here watered plants on my home front, though it was not quite so hot and dry here…

      I wouldn’t water-log the shiso, but you should not let it get so dry that the plants wilt. Touch the soil and if it feels as moist as a sweaty underarm, then it’s probably ok. Wetter, let the soil dry. Both too dry and too wet can make the leaves wilt.

      At this time, my plants are well branched and 18″ tall. Your plants may not get so big at this point, even if you transplant them to a garden or large pot… Fall comes soon.

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