Perilla frutescens, also known as Shiso or Beefsteakplant, is usually grown in a flower garden or as a house plant. This aromatic plant belongs to the Lamiaceae family, more commonly known as the mint family. Originally called the Labiatae family for the shape of its flowers, its petals consist of bonded upper and lower lips. Imagine five connected petals and five connected sepals, respective in proportion to one another. Bisexual and verticillastrate, these flowers are clustered together in what appears to be a single whorl of flowers but are truly two separate clusters. Its leaves, however, are whorled and appear at right angles in pairs to the next corresponding couple. These leaves can be found on dining tables from Korea to Japan. Green Shiso seeds are sometimes ground and used to make oil or to flavor broth. In sushi bars its known by the name ‘Ohba’. It’s flavor is reminiscent of a curry-like combination of cumin, cilantro and parsley with a dash of cinnamon, and is used for seasoning pickles, salads, cabbage and fish. Use the flowers and leaves together to make a pleasantly sweet smelling tea. Crushed leaves have a lemon scent. In China it is used in traditional medicine and is not to be confused with Egoma, a plant so similar it is hard to distinguish the difference even with use of an electron microscope.
Growing Information: Perilla frutescens is an annual bloomer. It’ll do fine in a shady area. If you plan to grow outside make sure to sow the seeds after the last spring frost. If you’d rather grow inside, sow the seeds four weeks before the last spring frost. The seeds should be lightly pressed into the surface of the soil. Leave the seeds unburied because they require light to germinate. Space the seeds about 2” apart in rows 18″ apart. Seedlings should take between 5 and 15 days to emerge from the soil. When they reach a height of 1”, thin to 6″-12” apart. Perilla seeds are best off stored in the fridge.
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