The perilla genus has at least 6 species that have been used by man. Their area of origin in Asia extends from India to Japan. Perilla is an aromatic, fast growing annual 50cm to 150cm tall, resembling Coleus in appearance, and large leafed basils, to which it is related. Two lipped flowers can be white, pink or lavender-purple, forming in leaf axils and terminal spikes. The plant has a very bushy canopy of opposite leaves forming on square stems. Leaves are ovate to 15cm long, and the margins are soft toothed and may be indented and frilly. The herb is a traditional oriental flavouring, particularly in Japanese cuisine, where it is used as readily as we use parsley. The leaves are highly aromatic and really cannot be compared to the smell of any other herb. The flavour is slightly sweet and spicy with a note of mint. Perilla’s aroma and flavour take a while to be appreciated. Leaves are eaten raw, cooked, salted and pickled, or used as a garnish. Young green leaves, particularly of green perilla are essential for sushi. Purple perilla leaves give a vivid colour and flavour to the traditional Japanese sweets and umebashi pickled plums. Perilla is also used in pickled ginger, Chinese/Japanese artichokes (which are an attractive gourmet root vegetable, see pages 84, 269) and raw fish dishes like sashimi. Leaves are cooked in tempura batter and used to flavour bean curds. Perilla seeds may be sprouted, like alfalfa, added to any dish or used as a garnish. Flowers make a dainty, edible, decoration on a dish. One of the components of the volatile oil extracted from perilla, perilla-aldehyde, can be made into a sweetener, said to be 2000 times sweeter than sugar, with very low kilojoules. This sweetener has been used as a substitute for maple sugar or licorice in processed foods, and is utilized in processed foods and tobacco. However, an antioxime of perillaaldehyde, is considered too toxic for food use, although, it is used in minute amounts in flavouring sauces, toothpaste and confectionery. Analysis of perilla’s anti-microbial properties has been documented to have over one thousand times the strength of synthetic food preservatives. Perilla is grown as an oil seed crop from Japan to northern India. The oil comprises up to 51% of the seed’s weight. The oil is used for culinary purposes, similar to linseed oil, and also has industrial application in paint, printing, and paper manufacture. The natural red pigment called shisonin is used in food processing as a colourant.
Sheryl: I recently visited Melbourne and observed this plant growing in my friend’s garden and brought back some seed so hopefully I can share it with you if I am successful in propagating it. It was growing exceptionally well (weed said my husband!) My friend and I both love Japanese cuisine particularly Sushi so do go looking for it. Nice photos at: http://www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au/Sorting/Perilla_Gallery.html
Wikipedia says: Perilla is a genus of an annual herb that is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. In mild climates the plant reseeds itself. The most common species is Perilla frutescens var. japonica or shiso which is mainly grown in India and East Asia. There are both green-leafed and purple-leafed varieties which are generally recognized as separate species by botanists. The leaves resemble stinging nettle leaves, being slightly rounder in shape. It is also widely known as the Beefsteak plant. In North America, it is increasingly commonly called by its Japanese name, shiso, in addition to being generally referred to as perilla. Its essential oils provide for a strong taste whose intensity might be compared to that of mint or fennel. It is considered rich in minerals and vitamins, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods. In Nepal and parts of India, it is called silam. Its seeds are ground with chilli and tomatoes to make a savoury dip/side dish. In North America one of the purple varieties is sometimes known as Purple Mint, Chinese Basil or Wild Coleus (although it is not a mint, basil or coleus).
The essential oil extracted from the leaves of perilla by steam distillation consists of a variety of chemical compounds, which may vary depending on species. The most abundant, comprising about 50–60% of the oil, is perillaldehyde which is most responsible for the aroma and taste of perilla. Other terpenes such as limonene, caryophyllene, and farnesene are common as well. Of the known chemotypes of perilla, PA (main component: perillaldehyd) is the only one used for culinary purposes. Other chemotypes are PK (perilla ketone), EK (elsholzia ketone), PL (perillene), PP (phenylpropanoids: myristicin, dillapiole, elemicin), C (citral) and a type rich in rosefuran.
Perilla oil is obtained by pressing the seeds of perilla, which contain 35 to 45 percent oil. In parts of Asia, perilla oil is used as an edible oil that is valued more for its medicinal benefit than its flavor. Perilla oil is a very rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. As a drying oil similar to tung oil or linseed oil, perilla oil has been used for paints, varnishes, linoleum, printing ink, lacquers, and for protective waterproof coatings on cloth. Perilla oil can also be used for fuel.
The oxime of perillaldehyde (perillartin) is used as an artificial sweetener in Japan as it is about 2000 times sweeter than sucrose. References: Refer wikipedia on the web
NB: Perilla ketone is toxic to some animals. When cattle and horses consume purple mint (of the PK chemotype) while grazing in fields in which it grows, the perilla ketone causes pulmonary edema leading to a condition sometimes called perilla mint toxicosis.