How to grow shiso (perilla)

shisonome1.jpg

I posted a photo of my sprouted shiso seeds on Instagram this morning, which led to several people asking how to grow it. Although I’ve written about growing shiso a couple of times before, I have never described the procedure. So, here it is!

What is shiso?

Shiso (紫蘇)is one of the most commonly used herbs in Japanese cooking, and the best one to grow if you have any interest in Japanese food. It’s an annual plant. The botanical name is Perilla frutescens var. crispa.

What kind of shiso to plant?

There are basically two types of shiso: green and red. Red shiso (赤じそ、akajiso) is usually used to make umeboshi pickled plums and some other kinds of pickles, but not much else. They can’t be eaten raw because they are rather bitter, so they need to be salted, blanched, and whatnot. I usually don’t plant red shiso at all unless I want one for contrast with my green shiso - they are very pretty together.

Green shiso (青しそ, ao-jiso) is the one to plant for all kinds of uses: as garnish, as an onigiri wrap, shredded and used as yakumi (extra seasoning if you will) with cold noodles or tofu; as pretty dividers in your bentos, in salads and a lot more. Shiso has a slightly minty taste, and makes a very nice pesto. Green shiso leaves are also called ohba (大葉), which just means ‘big leaf’.

The sprouts of eater are used as delicate garnishes. Even the seed pods are eaten - salted and preserved, or as tempura. The leaves can be made into tempura too - shiso leaf tempura is crunchy and fragrant.

There’s another type of perilla used for culinary purposes: Perilla frutescens var. japonica, called egoma in Japan and deul-ggeh in Korean (thanks Eric). This is not shiso, and has smooth leaves rather than the rather bumpy frilly leaves of shiso. The seeds are used to make a kind of oil that’s supposed to be very good for you.

shisoleaves500.jpg

Where to get shiso seeds

You may be able to just buy shiso seeds these days at your local garden center, but if not, try one of the following:

  • Try looking under the botanical name for shiso, Perilla frutescens var. crispa. Some seed catalogs may carry it as an ornamental plant rather than a herb, so look in that section. An even older western name for it is the beefsteak plant (goodness knows why) but that is out of vogue now.
  • The sources for Japanese herb and vegatable seeds listed on this page should still be ok.

How to sow shiso seeds

Shiso seeds are very tough and sturdy. You can just seed them in your garden where you want them to grow, but they may take a long time to germinate that way, perhaps 3 to 4 weeks, and quite a few of the seeds may fail. To ensure that most of your shiso seeds germinate, soak them in water for 24 hours before seeding. To sew those soaked seeds, I just pour them on the seed bed water and all. This way the seeds should germinate in 4-7 days or so.

You can sow shiso indoors to give them a start. I just sow them in Jiffy-7 pellets, as you can see in the photo up to; I sew as many Jiffy-7s as I want plants plus a couple extra, and snip away the extra seedlings as they grow. The seedlings can be used as garnish on salads, on cold tofu, and so on — after all, seedlings and sprouts are the same thing.

Do not let the seeds dry out or you will delay germination even further. The packet of Japanese seeds I have recommends covering the seeds with a sheet of newspaper, and keeping that paper moist until the seeds germinate. (But, who has newspaper around these days? We don’t…)

How many plants do you need?

Just one or two plants will give you enough leaves to use as garnish, or shredded on top of tofu, or eaten with cold soba noodles etc. Plant a few more if you want to make pesto or preserve the seed pods in some quantity. I am restricted to growing things in pots right now because our garden is still a pile of rubble basically, so I plan to have about 5-6 plants in pots. Shiso grows in pots quite happily although they rarely get to full height in them.

Climate and growing conditions

Shiso grows all over Japan, which ranges in climate from the Scandinavia-like Hokkaido to subtropical Okinawa. In temperate climates with mild winters it self-seeds pretty readily. My mother grew shiso in her garden on the North Shore of Long Island, New York (Zone 7) and her shiso self-seeded all over her vegetable patch.

Basically you can grow them as you would basil. They like well draining soil, although they grow in any kind of soil. They aren’t too finicky about water - just water them well if they go dry or start to wilt. (Shiso grown in pots needs a lot of water.) They get to around 5 feet (150cm or so) tall. At the end of summer the flower buds form; you can let them flower and form seed pods, or clip them off to keep the leaves coming. Shiso flowers can be used as very pretty garnish on sashimi plates and so on.

The plants die back in winter, and may self-sow for you if you leave some seed pods on them.

Problems?

Shiso leaves rarely get any kind of disease, and they aren’t that attractive to most insects. Snails love them though so watch out for them.

I hope that answers your questions! I’ll take pictures of my shiso plants this year as they grow. Here’s hoping I don’t kill them off ^_^; The next stage for my shiso is to transplant them to pots.

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Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Thanks for this post. I have sowed shiso, red and green and was about to give up, as they never seemed to germinate. Not I'll give them a week or two more.
Do you also soak the ones you grow indoors?

MotherOwl | 2 May, 2013 - 16:22

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I think the japonica varietal is actually called "deul-ggeh" in Korean, not "jen" (which I think is a Wade Giles Chinese name), and Koreans generally eat that instead of shiso. Interesting that each country grew to prefer a different varietal.

Eric Suh | 2 May, 2013 - 17:22

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Thanks Eric - I'll take your word for it.

maki | 2 May, 2013 - 18:36

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I'm growing (ao) shiso now and I can't wait to partake of my harvest!!

BettyWight | 2 May, 2013 - 17:59

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I grew both aka and aoshiso last year with no problems at all. I had way too many plants for my planting box but all that meant was I had a LOT of plants with lots of leaves but only about 50-75 cm in height. They were the first to show (out of mizuna, mitsuba, bok choi, komatsuna and kabocha) and the absolutely last to go.
I'm hoping they self-sow this year but since winter hasn't really ended yet (we had frost last night) we'll have to see :)

dracuella | 3 May, 2013 - 08:32

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I suppose that I am lucky since both green and red shiso grow wild in Tennessee. I had a friend from Laos a few years back who used to serve raw red shiso as an accompaniment for an insanely spicy beef dish he would prepare, it did have a bitter taste but I thought it was a pleasant bitterness, no worse than nigagori (bitter melon) of which I am very fond. Once you get a bed of shiso started it will reseed itself year after year. My little shiso patch has been doing this for over 25 years.

Charlie Sommers | 3 May, 2013 - 14:48

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Thank you for this post! I'm getting ready to plant shiso for the first time in a few days.

Laura | 3 May, 2013 - 19:52

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

My "problem" has been them coming up year after year whether I want them to or not (sometime in odd places), lol. Very vigorous and easy to grow in my experience. And they produce lots of seeds.

Megumi | 3 May, 2013 - 22:31

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Can it be used for making salads?

Kate Redwine | 5 May, 2013 - 13:23

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

In a salad I'd use them finsly shredded up - as whole leaves they're a bit strong, kind of like trying to use whole Italian parsley. They're great for wrapping around little pockets of tuna salad or chicken salad or cheese etc. though.

maki | 6 May, 2013 - 15:32

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

hey!

Where did you find shiso seeds in France?

thanks!

barbara | 6 May, 2013 - 12:47

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I actually used Japanese ones that my mother got for me, but this company seems to have them.

maki | 6 May, 2013 - 15:30

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

the shiso seeds I found are a funny variety, the leaves are rater smooth and green on one side, red on the other, when they grow they curl up a bit, they look rather like Korean shiso.
Years ago I had red shiso frilly plants, the smell of those was almost the same as the one I have now, only they tasted stronger, a bit peppery/bitter.
Can't find the green frilly variety in my garden center, I've seen the red one again this year, sold indeed as "beefsteak plant", but I already had the bicolor ones running so I did not buy it.

stefafra | 9 May, 2013 - 14:58

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I attempted to grow shiso on a front porch (first floor, several steps above ground, wooden floor) in Western MA, USA. None of the leaves ever made it to over 2 cm or so before being completely devoured by bugs. Many plants, not a single leaf survived. Sowed them indoors by windows with grow lights, they grew several feet tall, very prolific. Although annuals, mine went on for about 3 years continuously through all seasons, very healthy and beautiful giant leaves, larger than my open hand. I remember my students in Japan also telling me that shiso is a great favorite of many bugs.
I got the seeds from Kitazawa seed co. online.

Tal | 10 May, 2013 - 07:40

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

My husband and I acquired a plant a few years ago and now we have shiso weeds everywhere! We let them grow and try to eat them with salads and Korean BBQ. I think we have the smooth-leaved Korean kind -- it REALLY likes New Jersey, USA!

anon. | 13 May, 2013 - 18:25

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Very interesting article, useful for me since I like eating green shiso.
I had some seeds from an online store in the UK but they NEVER germinated.
This year I got a packet of shiso from Japan and put it into the freezer for a few weeks. Then I took it out for a day and seeded. It seems that almost all of the seeds germinated!

I hope to have as much shiso plants as I have space on the window sills.

crommr | 15 May, 2013 - 12:05

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Your blog is always the most helpful. Everything I read here is so useful to me when cooking, and I am grateful. Thank you

Ester | 20 May, 2013 - 21:55

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Looks almost like organic lettuce leaves when fully grown. By the way do they also use this plant in making alcohol?

Aaron Gibbs | 15 June, 2013 - 06:33

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

There is a shiso liqueur, but it's not used in general alcohol making.

maki | 15 June, 2013 - 14:10

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Do you ever make akajiso juice? So refreshing on a hot summer day! Now I'm wishing I had ordered shiso seeds this year. (^_^)

ChristineS | 24 June, 2013 - 15:03

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I've planted both green and red perilla seeds in a window box (but its sitting on my porch) having soaked the seeds overnight. Only the green appears to have germinated :( The green was from seed that I obtained from a Japanese import store and the red was from the Baker Street Heirloom Seed Co. I was wondering if you had any suggestions about the red - I would really like to have some of it. I have seeds left, but am wondering if they are all no good...?

Cheryl | 2 August, 2013 - 04:36

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Thanks for the tips. My shiso sprouts have been planted! Can't wait to eat it.

anon. | 2 August, 2013 - 19:42

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Have tried for several years to grow this in Las Vegas. I think its just too hot as the edges of the leaves curl and turn brown even with lots of water. If you know of a variety that will work here I'd like to know.

VegasSmitty | 24 August, 2013 - 20:37

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

ive been growing shiso this year in a pot, when winter comes can I take the plant indoors?

brenna | 1 September, 2013 - 23:29

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

You can try but shiso are annuals so they probably won't survive the year. It's not in their nature. You could try taking a cutting and growing that perhaps.

maki | 4 September, 2013 - 21:15

Creative Shiso

Red shiso is popular in many Japanese restaurants - bits of dried red leaves (packets sold in supermarkets) are sprinkled on rice. Sushi rice too, try with creamy avocado.

In high class restaurants, red shiso flowers (pink) garnish sashimi (raw fish). Hold the stalk in one hand, with other hand, use the chopsticks to thread through the stalk; flowers drop and release strong perfume (mask fishiness). Eat together, aromatic punch.

Likewise, for kick of scent, drop shiso flowers (white for green shiso, pink for red shiso) in cocktails, e.g. alcoholic iced tea, drinks extra dry....blooms shaken/stirred.

Andrew | 3 September, 2013 - 22:42

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I was frustrated many times (and wasted many packages of shiso seeds) until my Japanese friend told me about covering the soil with newspaper after planting. I usually plant in a large pot and cut a newspaper in a round shape so it fits tightly directly on the soil. That helped immensely! Once you get even one or two plants started, they do self-seed readily. That worked for me on Long Island and in the Chicago area as well. As insurance, I also retrieved the pot in the fall after the plants/flowers had dried up, and kept safely it in our basement or garage until spring. I then put it outside, pulled up all the dead plants/roots, and watered it every day until multiple seeds (dropped by plants) sprouted in the pot. So I always maintained a supply growing in the pot, as well as the many that sprouted in the ground nearby. You can select where you want the shiso to grow just by moving the pot around to various locations while it is blooming!

Shiso is also delicious in Japanese-style spaghetti of various types (with tarako, or umeboshi, or chopped tomatoes and a little soy sauce). Shiso is actually a relative of basil. Enjoy!

anon. | 24 September, 2013 - 20:25

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Great article. Just a comment about red shiso. Umeboshi is not the only thing it's good for. Red shiso makes a delicious and beautiful magenta colored beverage. Shiso juice is quite popular in Japan and not that difficult to make. I'm sure one can find a recipe or two on line if you're interested.

Tine Chan | 17 January, 2014 - 13:14

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I've been experimenting with both varieties but my favourite outcome so far has been a Satsuma Plum and Red Shiso cordial which is 1 part Satsuma Plum syrup and 1 part Red Shiso syrup. It's been an excellent summer drink poured over ice with a soda water and makes an excellent cocktail with slug of vodka as well.

Troy | 29 January, 2014 - 12:33

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Thank you, lots of info. Just planted seeds (red & green) in pots & ground. In so. California, can't wait, I think coming up now. Planted Detroit first time was wonderful. Thanks again :-))

Mark Strauss | 4 April, 2014 - 08:26

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Hi Hello!

How about the sun - do they like it? I've heard only morning sun from locals (I am in the Setonaikai area) but my window faces west. I've got a bunch of seedlings in a pot.

Thank you!

anon. | 11 April, 2014 - 13:53

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

I've been growing my shiso for a few weeks now and have started to notice more and more holes on the leaves and I'm not sure what could be eating them and how to get them to stop. Do you have any idea what I could do?

anon. | 16 June, 2014 - 19:22

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Try spraying them with an organic pepper spray to discourage the nibblers...you can fine recipes for homemade versions online. Ones that have cayenne pepper in them usually work.

maki | 18 June, 2014 - 07:28

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

When I cover seeds to germinate, I like to use paper towels- most households I think have them, and they work very well!

anon. | 18 June, 2014 - 21:56

Re: How to grow shiso (perilla)

Talk about HARDY plants! From a single packet planted in one place 4-5 years ago, we now have shiso sprouting in a variety of nearby locations. We shared some with our daughter and have found them sprouting through the cracks in their asphalt driveway (in the shade much of the day!)

Their first summer we also planted baby bok choi in the garden. I found the combination of bok choi leaves wrapped with a single shiso leaf quite a delicious snack :-)

pam hasegawa | 5 October, 2014 - 13:32

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