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PerillaPerilla frutescens

From An Herbalist in the Kitchen

Illustration of Epazote

Perilla frutescens Altropurpurea

Other Common or Ethnic Names

  • Beefsteak Leaf, Beefsteak Plant, Chinese Basil, Wild Sesame
  • Previous scientific names for Perilla include: Perilla crispa, Perilla nankinensis, Ocimum frutescens and Ocimum crispum.
  • China: Bai Su Zi, Chi Ssu, Hung Sha Yao, Tyu Ssu, Yeh Ssu, Zi Su, Zi-su
  • Germany: Chinesische Melisse, Perilla, Schwarznessel, Wilder Sesam
  • India: Ban Tulsi, Bhanjira
  • Japan: Akajiso, Aka-shiso, Aojiso, Ao-shiso, Chiso, Egoma, Oba, Shiso
  • Korea: Kkaennip, Tulkkae
  • Thailand: Ngaa Khee Mon
  • Vietnam: Cay Tia To, La Tia To, Rau Tia To, Tia To


  • Aromatic Flatleaf Perilla, Curled or Curly Perilla, Green Cumin, Lemon Perilla
  • 'Altropurpurea': Red Perilla, Purple Perilla, Crispy Perilla, Aka Shiso or Shiso Noha (Japan). Dark purple foliage
  • 'Crispa': Green Perilla or Ao Shiso (Japan)--green or bronze foliage with bright purple, wrinkly, edges

Growth Habits

Origin: China, Southeast Asia, west to the Himalayas
Range: Naturalized in Eastern United States; weedy

Culinary Uses

Cilantro-like, with hints of cinnamon, lemon and mint. Green and bronze varieties are gingery, with a sweet finish. Reddish purple forms not as intensely flavored as the green varieties. Bronze Perilla is the variety most often used in food. Use fresh leaves in salads (especially those that include cucumbers), fruit salads, also in stir-fries.

Flowers and buds (hojiso or mejiso) garnish soups or fish.

The tiny seed pods are sometimes added to shoyu to make a condiment to accompany Tempura. The seeds, when pressed, yield a cooking oil that is very high in polyunsaturated fat.

Red Perilla provides the color of umeboshi, the Japanese salted plums (which are actually a kind of apricot) and the glowing pink of preserved Ginger. After Perilla is pickled with umeboshi, the leaves are sometimes dried and pulverized. The resulting Shiso Momiji is a condiment, a kind of seasoned salt. It is traditionally served with Tofu and some Tempuras. It is also an ingredient in several varieties of canned Japanese pickled vegetables.

Red Perilla is known as Rau Tio To in Vietnam, where its hairy leaves are prized for their slightly bitter Citrus and Cinnamon-like flavor. Rau Kinh Gioi, or Green Perilla, has a hot, lemony, faintly Basil-like flavor that the Vietnamese add to salads, or use as they use lettuce--as a wrapper of hot foods.

Perilla contains Perilla Aldehyde, Perilla Ketone, Perillene, a-Pinene and Pinene.

Other Uses

Perilla is also raised in Japan for oilseeds.


I had heard that Oba is used as a garnish for sushi -- but confirmation proved to be very elusive. While Oba's description sounded a bit like Perilla frutescens 'Crispa,' there had been no mention of purple-edges on the leaves, so I had my doubts. I searched in dozens of books for Oba, never finding the slightest mention of the herb. Recently, I had some sushi made with Burdock roots (Gobo). I noticed a thin, ruffled, line of green surrounding the burnt-orange pickled roots in the center of the Nori-wrapped roll. I questioned the sushi chef about it, and he answered "Japanese Mint." I asked if he meant Shiso. When he nodded (somewhat surprised that this extremely un-Japanese eater knew anything at all about the food), I saw my chance. Did he know of a leaf called Oba?

Lo and behold: Oba is Green Perilla. Not all the answers are to be found in books.

Some people develop allergic skin rections to Perilla Aldehyde in the leaves.

"Tia To" is also the Vietnamese name for the leaves of the Caraway plant.

"Rau Kinh Gioi" has been used as a name for Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis.

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