Perilla – characteristics, cultivation and use

perilla - by Dalgial

Perilla, also commonly known as shiso, is an often cultivated spice herb in Asia and indispensable in Japanese cooking. The herb is not only useful in the kitchen, but also as a medicinal herb.

Profile of perilla:

Scientific name: Perilla frutescens

Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)

Other names: Korean perilla. shiso

Sowing time / Planting time: Mid-April – May

Flowering period: July – August

Harvest time: June – September

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-rich, humus-rich and well-drained soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: cold, fever, nausea, diarrhea, headache, asthma

Use as aromatic herb: meat, fish, pickled fruit, umeboshi, soups, salads, glass noodle dishes

Plant characteristics and classification of perilla

Origin and occurrence of perilla (Shiso)

Where the herb originally comes from is not exactly inferred from the various sources. Some sources report that the perilla is said to be from the mountainous regions of India and China. As a possible region of origin, however, Southeast Asia could come into question. In many countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia, the popular Asian herb grows wild on fallow land, forest clearcuts or glades.

After Japan, the Shiso was introduced and cultivated around the 9th century. Other growing areas are the USA, Southern Europe and most Asian countries.

Occurrence of perilla

In its original distribution in Asia, as well as sporadically in some areas of the United States, shiso is found on barren soils. Since the herb is relatively unpretentious as a plant, it is often found on fallow or badlands.

Plant order of perilla

Perilla or Shiso (Perilla frutescens) belong to the mint family. Perilla is closely related to other known herbs like thyme, hyssop or basil. The genus Perilla currently consists only of the species Perilla frutescens. However, there are a number of different subspecies. The most well-known subspecies here are the Red Shiso (Perilla frutescens var. Purpurascens) and the Green Shiso (Perilla frutescens var. Crispa). Some botanists today discuss whether these varieties are considered as separate species.

Look and characteristics of perilla


Perilla is an annual herbaceous and bushy growing plant that measures about 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 in).


Due to the different varieties, the leaf color is sometimes different. The leaf color of red shiso is reddish to purple. The variety Crispa, however, has only green leaves. All leaves of the shiso are serrated and have a veining towards the leaf tip. The leaves are rounded towards the stems and mostly hairy. The stem itself is square and equipped with soft leaf hair.


The flowers of the herb are usually whitish to pale pink and arranged in so-called pseudowhorl. The clearly perceptible lip flowers have above three lancet-shaped flower lobes, below only two. Its typical flowering period is between late July to mid-August.


After flowering appear small brown and rangy schizocarp fruits, each containing four seeds. The seeds are quite small and lightweight.

perilla inflorescence
perilla inflorescence – by Michael Becker

Perilla – culativation and care


Shiso prefers a warm and sunny to partially shaded place. With its decorative leaves and bushy growth, shiso is a real eye-catcher, especially in the group.


Shiso thrives well on nutrient-rich, moist and well-drained soils, as well as some clay soil.


Perilla needs light to germ. The seeds should therefore only be pressed slightly into the soil, otherwise no or only a very delayed germination occurs. The best time for sowing is the spring months (mid-April to May) and the late autumn months (October and November). Shiso, however, can already be pre-cultivated in February and March in propagation trays and later transplanted in the field or on the balcony. In the field distances of approx. 25 cm (10 in) should be kept.

Tip: The plant is a short-day plant and tends to bloom early if it has been pre-cultivated. The flowering shoots should be removed early, otherwise the taste quality suffers significantly. If possible, outdoor or direct balcony cultivation is recommended.


The soil should always be kept moderately moist during cultivation. Occasional dry earth is not bad. Wet soil and waterlogging should be avoided.


The plant is usually quite hungry compared to other herbs. No fertilization is needed in the early stages of growth, as perilla plants have been planted in nutrient-rich substrate. About 3 months after the germination phase should be occasionally fertilized. Recommended are compost, worm compost, herbal or organic long-term fertilizers such as cattle manure pellets.

Tip: If the plant should grow bushy, it is recommended to remove the upper shoot tips.


The best harvest times are between mid-June and early September. Within this time, the shiso could build enough ingredients. The leaves as well as the seeds can be harvested. Shiso leaves are not suitable for drying as many of the effective and tasty ingredients are lost.

Diseases and pests

Perilla frutescens is relatively resistant to plant diseases and pests.

Perilla and its use

Perilla in the kitchen

It is a very popular herb in Asian cuisine, especially Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisine. The exotic taste is rather hard to describe, but it is slightly reminiscent of a mixture of mint, lemon, coriander and anise. The different shiso varieties sometimes have different tastes. For example, the aniseed taste of red shiso is somewhat stronger, whereas the green shiso is more likely to have the taste of coriander and lemon.

Perilla is mainly used there for seasoning meat and fish dishes. In the Japanese kitchen, the green shiso leaves (Crespo) are preferred. There they are often used in sushi, rice and soup dishes. The red shiso is part of a Japanese national dish called Umeboshi. In Japan, Ssiso is also served because the herb is supposed to protect against parasites and poisoning. Likewise, the perilla oil derived from the seeds and the essential oil produced from the leaves are used. The essential oil is commonly used for seasoning desserts.

Shiso tastes great as a condiment in the preparation of Asian soups and salads. In soups, the herb should be stirred shortly after cooking, as the taste is best preserved. Both types of perilla complement each other especially with fried garlic.

Perilla as a medicinal herb

The herb is originally from Asia and is also used as a medicinal herb. In some scientific studies, the health-promoting properties of the herb could be detected. For example, the herb helps against some allergies and also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

In addition, perilla extracts and oil have been shown to inhibit or prevent cancer. Other authors found out that tumor growth can be inhibited.

Perilla is quite important in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The herb is used here mainly for colds, fevers, diarrhea or headaches. Perilla is described as strong in taste with a warm nature. The stems are said to soothe Qi and calm the stomach.

In Japanese medicine, it is often used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders as well as nausea.

The fruits and seeds of perilla contain up to 50% oily ingredients, of which more than 90% are present as unsaturated fatty acids. As curative effective oil acids is the alpha-linolenic acid, which belongs to the group of omega-3 fatty acids and has anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been shown that alpha-linolenic acid is metabolized in the body and forms other essential fatty acids that are important for the development of the brain and our blood circulation.

Other health-promoting effects attributed to the perilla include anti-allergenic effects and calming effects. Perilla oil is said to have anti-asthmatic effects.

Buy Perilla – What is there to pay attention to?

Meanwhile, fresh perilla can be found in some Asian shops, which are sold there almost exclusively as shiso. In standard supermarkets or discounters, this is offered only very rarely.

Most seed producers offer seeds. The most common available is the red shiso, which is sometimes offered as a black nettle or black horehound. When in doubt, the botanical names should be compared. The red shiso is marked as Perilla frutescens var. Purpurascens, whereas the green shiso is found under the name Perilla frutescens var. Crispa. The price per package (100 seeds) is about 2 to 4 EUR/$.

Also, fresh plants can be purchased in specialized markets r online. The price is between 3.50 to 5 EUR/$ per plant.

Some specialty stores also sell perilla oil or perilla’s essential oil. Pure edible oils are rare. Mostly, however, perilla is present in acceptable quantities of at least 25%. These oils are excellent spices, but are relatively expensive. However, since the oil can be used very sparingly and the oil is complex and difficult to obtain, these sometimes high prices are quite justified. The price for 500 ml (17 fl oz) of pure perilla oil is about 15 EUR/$.

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