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Shiso - exotic Japanese basil

Updated on July 15, 2014
relache profile image

Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

Green Shiso

This variety is most often used when making sushi, especially as an accent in rolls and nigiri.
This variety is most often used when making sushi, especially as an accent in rolls and nigiri. | Source

Sometimes nicknamed "Japanese basil"

Shiso is an herb which is most known for being a part of Japanese sushi cuisine. Sometimes called "perilla" (which comes from its Latin name Perilla frutescens) this jagged-edge leaf is what inspired those funky plastic leaves you always get in ready-made sushi packs at the supermarket. There are different color varieties, and the flavor isn't something that can be pinned down succinctly. Shiso has been described as having a mix of flavors, with hints of basil, mint and cumin most often cited, but really it just tastes like itself.

In sushi, the leaves are most often incorporated into roll-style concoctions or used as a decorative garnish. You can also find them delicately fried in tempura. Mixing the red leaves in with pickled ginger can turn the whitish root pink, and shiso is what gives umeboshi plums their reddish color as well. Some of the more nouveau uses in modern cooking for shiso are as a pesto or in martinis and mojitos.

Growing Shiso

If you want to grow your own shiso, it's much like growing other herbs. You can start from seeds or seedlings, and grow the plants either in containers or in the ground. Mixed sun to full sun works well.  As with other herbs, be sure they don't get too much sun as this can lead them to bolt (flower) which will shorten their growing season. 

There are both green and red/purple varieties of shiso and each has a slightly different flavor. You should taste/eat both before growing or do some usage research so that you can determine which variety is better-suited for how you'd like to use it.

Fresh, Pickled and Powdered

Harvesting Shiso

Preserving Shiso

There are a variety of ways to use shiso, or to save it for later use. You may wish to try a few of them to find which work best for how you cook and what gives you the flavors you like best.

Drying - As with most leafy herbs, shiso is recommended as best used fresh, but can also be dried for later use. Leaves can be dried in a dehydrator or preserved in salt. They can be left whole or ground into powder.

Puree - If you crush the leaves in a blender or food processor, they turn into a paste. This can be frozen for later use. Freeze in ice cube trays if you want to have premeasured chunks, or put into a plastic freezer bag that allows you to flatten the shiso into a thin layer. This will let you break off a piece of the frozen puree as needed.

Pesto - This is another method of preparation that freezes well. Blend or food process the shiso leaves in place of basil in your favorite recipe and freeze with a thin layer of olive oil on top to preserve color.

Red Shiso

The red type of shiso is often used for making drinks, as it gives liquids a nice pink-purple color.
The red type of shiso is often used for making drinks, as it gives liquids a nice pink-purple color. | Source

A Refreshing Shiso Drink

I found a variety of sites that discussed making a concentrate from red shiso that was then diluted to make a sweet drink. However, many of those sites didn't list an exact recipe, and some that did called for both massive amounts of shiso and sugar. So I improvised, especially as I didn't have a pound of shiso (maybe next year). Here's what I worked out, and it's pretty darn tasty too.

For each 50g of shiso leaves you will want

  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 oz of sugar or honey
  • 1/3 tsp of citric acid or lemon juice

Measure out all your ingredients before you begin. Bring the water to a boil and add in the shiso leaves. They will wilt rather rapidly which will let you get a lot of leaves into not-a-lot-of-water. Boil for 10 minutes. The red leaves will lose their color (turning green) and the water will turn a dark purple color.

After the 10 minutes is up, turn off the heat and add the sweetener and citric/lemon. The watercolor will shift to a bright reddish-pink. Let the leaves continue to steep for another 10 minutes. Then strain the liquid, being sure to squeeze or press the leaves to extract all the fluid. This is your shiso concentrate. Keep this in a bottle in the fridge. To drink, you will want to dilute this with 2-3 times plain or sparkling water.

How Do You Like To Cook With Shiso?

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    • relache profile image

      Raye 23 months ago from Seattle, WA

      We had a warmer summer this year and I got a bumper crop. Time to harvest and dry it.

    • ThatMommyBlogger profile image

      Missy 23 months ago from The Midwest

      It's hard to find shiso out here, but I've bought it online before. Good stuff.

    • relache profile image

      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      This is tricky to find at standard markets and grocery stores. Asian food stores or farmer's markets have been more reliable sources for me. If all else fails, ask your favorite sushi restaurant.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i never tried this basil leave, must try to hunt down at supermarket, voted up

    • greeneryday profile image

      greeneryday 4 years ago from Some tropical country

      Interesting, I have never notice this shiso herb before whenever I eat sushi, all I know is wasabi, and the soy sauce... thanks for sharing, it really opened my eyes, and curiously want to know more about this herb...voted up for interesting...

    • toomuchmint profile image

      toomuchmint 5 years ago

      The shiso syrup wounds delightful. I usually only grow a little shiso and focus mainly on basil. I think I'll give it more of a try. Thanks for the great information!

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 5 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      Wow! Really neat to learn about a new herb. I will come back to you hub when I am ready to buy the seeds.

    • picadilly profile image

      Priscill Anne Alvik 5 years ago from Schaumburg, IL

      You have taught me something new today..and I love to learn..thank you!!!'

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Hi a brilliant hub and thanks for sharing with us.

      Takecare and have a great day.


    • merchantdoctor profile image

      merchantdoctor 5 years ago from Reno

      Thanks for the info sounds delicious.

    • PeanutButterWine profile image

      PeanutButterWine 5 years ago from North Vancouver, B.C. Canada

      Love this! Very informative!

    • rockdresses profile image

      rockdresses 5 years ago from Turkey

      Japanese basil is very unique. It is my fist time to hear this herb. Thanks a lot for your sharing !

    • profile image

      feelhungry 5 years ago

      I have never eat Shiso before.. I should try one day. :-) May be next week?

    • felicitylovespari profile image

      felicitylovespari 5 years ago

      Nice to learn about shiso.

      I happen to love Basil. They have this amazing olive oil with Basil at Wholefoods I always buy. Great hub. :)

    • happypuppy profile image

      happypuppy 5 years ago

      Interesting. I've never heard of shiso but saw perilla leaves for sale in my local grocery store. The two look different though.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Never heard of shiso. Thanks for the very interesting read and all the great info.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Hi! I love the stuff and grow it in my garden. It's a beautiful ornamental too. Talk about coincidence, I too have a hub in the works about how Shiso (perilla) is a great antioxidant. Rated up Relache!

    • Peter Owen profile image

      Peter Owen 6 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

      I also have never seen this for sale so I don't know if I have had it or not. Interesting stuff

    • Mrs. J. B. profile image

      Mrs. J. B. 6 years ago from Southern California

      YOou taught me something new. Thank You

    • relache profile image

      Raye 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      You can buy seeds or the herb from this very web page.

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