I have a weakness for perilla leaves.
From the moment I first tasted them, pickled in a delicious Korean-style sauce, I was hooked! And I’m sure you will be too.
Perilla is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), yet the taste of the leaves is like no other. It reminds me of a cross between mint and licorice (some would even say cinnamon), adding a unique flavor to any culinary dish. While I personally love marinating mine, I’ve also read that you can toss perilla in salads OR use the leaves as a wrap for rice…yum!
In my opinion, perilla is a perfect beginners herb because the oil content is so high that once you become familiar with the scent/taste, you can easily identify it. Furthermore, and probably most reassuring, is that there is no known poisonous look-alike to perilla. It is genuinely a safe herb to forage.
Medicinal Uses & Perilla Benefits
Perilla is a popular food in Asian countries, dating all the way back to the Song Dynasty, but it is also known for its medicinal and nutritious properties. Used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), perilla can help treat coughs, chest congestion, nausea, and even asthma. The leaves also contain rosmarinic acid, which can help reduce allergy flair ups or attacks.
Believed to be anti-carcinogenic, perilla is thought to clear sodium-nitrates from the body. Helping support healthy immune function, the leaves are high in antioxidants, and provides calcium, phosphorous, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Identification & Growing Season
Perilla has many names, including Shiso, Beefsteak Plant, Rattlesnake Weed, Wild Basil, Purple Mint, and more. There are two major varieties of perilla plants- green and red (which is really purple in color), but both are easy to identify.
Perilla grows worldwide, sometimes year around. In the United States, you can find the leaves in the eastern half, excluding Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Out of the varieties, the green perilla is the most common. It has broad leaves (ovate) with toothed edges, and is slightly fuzzy. The topside of the leaf will typically be bright green (especially after rainfall), while the underside will have a greenish-purple hue to it. Leaves are opposite on the stem of the plant and four-angled. The plant itself can reach about a yard high!
As mentioned above, perhaps the easiest way for me to identify perilla has to be the aroma after rubbing a leaf between my fingertips.
If you want to find perilla in your area, but have never tasted it before, I highly suggest seeking it out at Korean restaurants or international farmers markets first. That way, when you’re out in the field you’ll have a clear distinction of the smell and taste, which empowers you to find it confidently.
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The second type you will see is purple perilla (aka the “red” variety).