Perilla

Perilla frutescens

Herbs gallery - Perilla

Common names

  • Beefsteak Plant
  • Chinese Basil
  • Perilla
  • Purple Mint
  • Purple Perilla
  • Rattlesnake Weed
  • Shiso
  • Summer Coleus
  • Wild Basil
  • Wild Red Basil

No less than six species belonging to the perilla genus are used by people for various purposes. This aromatic herb is native to a vast region in Asia that covers large tracts from India to Japan. Perilla is a fast growing annual plant that reaches a height of anything between 50 cm and 150 cm. As far as its appearance is concerned, this herb bears some resemblance to coleus and basil with large leaves. In fact, perilla is related to basils. This herb bears two-lipped blooms whose hue may vary - white, lavender-purple or pink. The flowers appear at the terminal spikes and leaf axils. The leaves of perilla form a bushy canopy on the square stems. The leaves of this herb are ovate and measure up to 15 cm in length. The margins of the leaves are softly jagged and may either be frilly or indented.

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Perilla is an attractive garden plant and attracts a lot of butterflies. The aromatic plant dark purple stems as well as the leaves tinted purple to red remain throughout summer and fall. The smell of this plant is somewhat similar to that of mint and, hence, it is also referred to as the purple mint. When in full bloom, the plant grows up to a height of roughly 150 cm with reddish-purple stems and branches. The leaves are ovate and measure about 6 inches across. They appear opposite to each other on the stem, are petioled and serrate with curly or ruffled edges. While the leaves have a deep green tint, they may also have a touch of red or purple, particularly on their underside. The leaves also have fine bristles or hairs. Occasionally, the leaves of perilla become so large and red that they bear resemblance to a piece of raw beef. Hence, this herb is also called the beefsteak plant.

Perilla bears elongated flower spikes, which measure up to 10 inches and emerge from the leaf axils. However, the flowers are somewhat small, roughly 1/4-inch in length. The plant produces copious flowers which are tubular and their color may vary from lavender to pink. The flowers are in bloom during the period between July and October. Once the flowers wither, the calyx remains on the spike and it covers the seed pods. When the seed pods become completely dehydrated, they make a rattling sound like that of rattlesnake when shaken. Often people mistake perilla for purple basil and also use this herb for the purpose they use purple basil. You can collect the tender perilla leaves, which are edible, from the plant throughout the year. Ideally, the entire plant should be harvested when it is in bloom and dried in the sun for later use.

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There are two varieties of perilla - purple-leafed and green-leafed. This herb is usually related to Japanese cuisine. In Japanese, perilla is referred to as shiso. The oil extracted from perilla is also used for various purposes in different regions of Asia, including therapeutic and for favouring sauces and candies. It is worth noting here that this herb is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. The leaves of this herb are used for garnishing tempura and also in the form of a spice for preparing tofu. In several Asian cuisines, perilla leaves are a common garnish and are often used in salads, soups and sushi dishes.

Perilla is an annually growing herb belonging to the mint family. It is native to eastern Asia and grown as a traditional crop in countries like China, Japan, Thailand, Korea and India. It is believed that Asian migrants introduced perilla to the United States towards the end of the 19th century. Since then, the herb has naturalized rapidly in the United States and turned into a common weed growing naturally in pastures and roadsides, especially in the south-eastern regions of the country. This herb is generally found in the wild in roadsides, open fields, open woodlands and waste places.

Parts used

Leaves, stems.

Uses

Perilla has several scientifically established therapeutic uses. This is an aromatic, pungent and warming herb. An infusion prepared with the whole plant is said to be effective for treating conditions like colds, cough, asthma, and lung afflictions. In addition, it is also useful for preventing as well as treating influenza, vomiting, nausea, constipation, abdominal pain, allergic reactions especially caused by seafood and food poisoning. Perilla infusion is also useful for reinstating health as well as balance. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the stems of this herb are used for curing morning sickness and restless fetus during pregnancy. However, some herbalists are of the view that pregnant women should avoid using this herb or its formulations.

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In contemporary Chinese Materia Medica, the leaf of perilla has been classified as a surface-relieving herb that is employed for treating cold and other similar acute disorders, which may be accompanied by cough, stuffy nose and headaches. It is believed that this herb is one of the best remedies for "wind-cold" disorders. It has been categorized as a pungent and warming herb. The leaf of the herb as well as its stem are regarding to be a valuable herbal remedy that helps to disband stagnant qi as well as soothe a ruffled mind.

From the therapeutic point of view, perilla is related to Asian medicine and the herb is mainly used for its stomachic and expectorant properties. Moreover, this herb is used for treating various conditions of the respiratory system, counting chills, nasal inflammation, asthma and bronchitis. Perilla is also used for treating sunstroke and warts. Aside from this, it has been found that the herb encourages interferon activity and, hence, it is useful for promoting the health of the immune system.

Perilla has a somewhat peculiar smell, which is often attributed to the natural habitat of perilla - cow pastures. Hikers often rub the leaves of this herb on their skin and even clothes with a view to repel ticks. In addition, perilla has been found to be an excellent companion plant for tomatoes. This herb needs to be harvested before the formation of its seeds. This is primarily because perilla is an extremely invasive plant that spreads rapidly via its seeds.

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The volatile oil extracted from perilla seed has multiple uses. It is used in varnishes, paints, printing ink, linoleum, lacquers and also for waterproof coating on cloth. Like the volatile oils of other herbs, perilla oil is also used for making perfumes and in aromatherapy. In addition, seed heads of this herb can be harvested and dried in the sun for later use in potpourris, arrangements and wreaths. The plant is crushed and used in the form of an insecticide.

Culinary uses

People in the Orient have been traditionally using perilla to flavour their dishes, especially Japanese cuisine. People in Japan use this herb readily, in the same manner like people in the West use parsley. The leaves of this herb are very fragrant. In fact, the aroma of perilla leaves cannot be compared to the fragrance of any other herb. Perilla has a somewhat spicy and sweet flavour, with a touch of mint. It takes a person a while to appreciate the aroma as well as flavour of perilla. The leaves of this herb are consumed in various ways - raw, after cooking, salted and even pickled. In addition, perilla leaves are also used in the form of a garnish. It is worth mentioning here that the tender green leaves of the herb, especially green perilla, are indispensable for preparing sushi.

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The leaves of purple perilla, often referred to as purple mint, impart a vibrant color as well as flavour to conventional Japanese sweets, in addition to umebashi pickled plums. Aside from this, the herb is also used for making pickles along with ginger and Japanese/ Chinese artichokes. It is also used in various raw fish dishes such as sashimi.

Perilla leaves are used to add essence to bean curds and also for cooking in tempura butter. The seeds of this herb are also edible and one may consume them sprouted or added to various dishes like alfalfa. In addition, the perilla seeds are also used for garnishing. The flowers of this plant too are edible and used for delicate decorations on dishes. Perilla yields a volatile oil, which contains an active compound called perillaldehyde. This component of perilla oil can be used to prepare a sweetener, which is claimed to be 2000 time sweeter compared to sugar, but is low in kilojoules content. Traditionally, people have been using this sweetener to substitute licorice or maple sugar in processed foods. Moreover, it is also used in other processed foods as well as tobacco.

Habitat and cultivation

Perilla is propagated from its seeds, but it is quite challenging to deal with the germination issue of these seeds. In fact, perilla seeds possess a dormant attribute and despite endeavours, they will not sprout during their dormant period. This dormant period may start soon after harvesting of the fresh seeds and last for a couple of years. The whole thing is very unpredictable. Once the dormant period is over, perilla seeds will germinate well. Hence, it is very natural that experienced farmers always use old perilla seeds, which have passed their dormant period, for planting. Planting pre-dormant seeds may give a lot of headaches to the farmers. According to some reports, the dormant period of perilla seeds can be shortened provided they are stored in low temperatures ranging between 35°F and 45°F for no less than one to three months. Hence, it is recommended that the seeds should be sealed in a bag soon after harvesting and kept in a refrigerator. However, never store the seeds in a freezer.

In order to germinate well, perilla seeds require light. Moreover, while sowing they need to be covered with a light soil layer. However, the soil needs to be moist throughout the germination period. Farmers can ensure better as well as uniform germination if they soak perilla seeds in water for a night. These plants achieve best growth when they are under full sunlight. However, they will also grow well in partial shade when grown in places having mild climatic conditions.

Constituents

Combinations

Perilla can be used with other herbs. A blend of perilla leaf, bupleurum, acorus and curcuma is said to be effective for curing depression.

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