By Sydney Jordan Brown MG 2000
No, not a typo. But more a gardener’s “Oh!” if it’s the first time you’ve heard about Perilla frutescens var. crispa, more commonly known as shiso. It’s also referred to as beefsteak plant — this author finds it difficult to visualize how this lovely herb resembles a piece of meat. But there you have it.
Even though this perennial herb (belonging to the mint family Lamiaciae) has been highly esteemed in Japanese cuisines and medicinal usages for thousands of years, it’s not so well known in our Western gardens.
Often cultivated as an annual, shiso leafs out with saw-toothed-edged leaves in luminous-lime color. It boasts as well of its other boisterous cultivar in brilliant burgundy. As with most richly purplish-red pigmented plants, this shiso provides nutrients aplenty.
Although green shiso has many benefits, its crimson-shaded cousin contains a potent dose of anthocyanin (antioxidant), Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, calcium, potassium, and iron, as well as vitamins A, B2 and C. It also has a spicy zest with a hint-of-cinnamon taste somewhat like basil or coriander that’s sure to tweak any bland recipe.
Aside from its invaluable vitamin and mineral offerings, the entire plant may be consumed. How good is that! This includes leaves and stems, as well as its most beneficial seeds. Did you know these seeds are also made into an edible oil or ground for seasoning, as well as being used to color umeboshi and flavor the delightfully tangy-spicy pickled ginger?
Shiso is so extremely versatile in recipes, it’s a wonder it’s neither so well known nor used in our country. Not only does it add spice to the main meal but also spiffs up sultry soups, somber salads, routine rice, and tepid tempura, just to name a few.
If that weren’t enough, it also complements meats, seafood, and meatless dishes as well as desserts. Just imagine some icy shiso and berry sorbet sliding smoothly down during those sweltering summer days of being stuck on the home front.
Whether green or red, shiso is relatively easy and content to grow started indoors in early spring or direct sown in open beds or pots.
It’s a perfect plant for all who’ve recently partaken of planting gardens. Whether you’ve only a patio, porch, deck, or puny-sized plot, it will thrive in a pot.
Given a good mix of finely composted bark, morning sun with late afternoon filtered shade and regular watering, you should have plants O’plenty for the picking.
Usually shiso should be mature enough to start leaf harvesting by midsummer. Growing similarly as basil, regular clipping will produce bushier plants with even more leaves to indulge.
During late summer, flowering stalks result in seeds that may be consumed or saved for sowing your own next season.
What more could one want?
Gotta get, get, get,
get out and go do it!
Sow some shiso
and make it a hit!
Pinetree garden seeds
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Both red and green as well variegated with both colors
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Both red and green varieties
Red shiso and raspberry sorbet
1/2 to 2/3 cup organic sugar, honey or agave
1 1/2 cups organic apple juice
1 good sized knob of fresh ginger, washed and grated
1 cup red shiso leaves, washed
2 cups fresh organic/home-grown raspberries (frozen also work) or black or boysenberries
Juice and zest of one organic lime
1/2 cup port wine (or frozen raspberry juice)
pinch of sea salt
Two 5.3 oz containers of raspberry Greek yogurt
To make syrup: In a medium saucepan, mix together sweetener of choice, apple juice, and ginger root. Bring just to a boil then add shiso leaves. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for an hour.
Place raspberries in a food processor or blender and add about 1/2 cup or more syrup, as needed, so they’ll puree. Strain puree through a fine sieve pressing out juices with a wooden spoon. Discard seeds, leaves and ginger fibers.
Add port wine (or raspberry juice) juice and zest from the lime and yogurt to syrup. Stir to mix well. Refrigerate until well chilled and freeze in an ice cream freezer following manufacturer’s directions.