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Shiso, Zisu or Kkaennip

Herb snips


Perilla plant

Any one of these names will do! Shiso is Japanese, Zisu is Chinese and Kkaennip is what the Koreans call this very versatile herb. I find it to be beautiful, tasty and unusual in flavor. I think you will too.

The botanical name is perilla frutescens var. crispa. I grow the variety that is green on the topside and purple on the underside but it is also available in other colors. It is an attractive perennial that has slightly prickly, ruffled leaves. The flowers are various shades of purple and clustered at each leaf segment in a whorled fashion. It requires more water than most perennial herbs. It is more like the annuals basil and tarragon in that regard. It will give you fair warning by wilting, but perks right up when watered! It spreads by seed so you will have many plants after a couple of seasons. Unfortunately the critters do like to munch on it. I have it in pots like my basil and enclose it with wire. .

My first plant was a gift from the owners of Garden Inn and Suites in Fresno. We went there to visit the Forestiere Underground Garden that is right across the street. Little did we know that the Inn had an amazing variety of plants and trees as part of their landscape. They were kind enough to give us a tour of the grounds and share some of their plants. The perilla frutescens was one of those plants. I learned it is rich in calcium and iron and in China they have used it for respiratory ailments for many centuries. I thought those were good reasons to give it a try in my garden, and I am glad I did!

It has much to recommend it as a culinary herb. To me the taste is a combination of cinnamon, anise and licorice. It can be a substitute in recipes calling for opal and Thai basil as well as mint. You may find the flavor a bit different than I do. Taste buds do vary and remember to savor herbs as you do wine. Swirl them around in your mouth to cover the various taste buds.

The smaller leaves are preferred for cooking but the pretty larger leaves are used in East Asian cultures as serving dishes for condiments such as wasabi, as well as pickled vegetables and fruit. In fact the leaves are used in the pickling process to color these delicacies. The seasoning, yucari is dried shiso flakes and available in specialty stores. The salted seed pods and berries are used as a seasoning for rice and pasta. Perilla leaves add a spark to eggs, stir fries, salads, pasta and rice when freshly cut in chiffonade fashion to top off the dish. Enjoy a cup of its aromatic, tasty tea made with fresh or dried leaves. I like a little honey added.

Perilla is an eloquent plant to add to your landscape even if you do not consume it, but I encourage you to give this exotic herb a taste. It is likely you already have done so at your favorite Asian restaurant.

Broaden your culinary horizon with perilla! It will add flavor, color and texture to your menu. It can be purchased on line (MishimaFood Co) and at Asian markets. Cheaper if you grow it! A special thanks to Kahori Noguchi for sharing her recipe ideas. Check my Website at for my monthly column, herb information and the date of the "dig in" at my garden. This year perilla plants will be available.


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