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With a distinctive taste and aroma, shiso is a must-have flavoring in Japanese cuisine. Depending on the variety, the flavor may include hints of mint, cinnamon, clove, citrus, cumin, cilantro and basil. There are two main types: green and red. Green shiso can be added to salads, wrapped around various fillings, or chopped into hot and cold noodle dishes. Red shiso tends to be more bitter than the green varieties, making it better for cooked dishes or used in pickling. Both are high in nutrients.
Shiso is an annual plant with beautiful, frilly leaves, so it's decorative as well as delicious. The botanical name is Perilla frutescens; other common names include perilla, Japanese basil and beefsteak plant. Shiso is typically started from seed. To improve germination, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before sowing, and then sow the seeds outdoors right in your garden or raised bed. The plant prefers full sun but isn't finicky about soil.
Shiso readily self-seeds, and in temperate climates with mild winters, the plant can become a problematic weed that invades natural areas. Therefore, it's a good practice to remove all the flowers as they form as a precaution against its unintended spread. If you want more shiso next year, allow the plant to produce a few blooms and, once the flowers have turned brown and dry, carefully bring them indoors and shake them over a plate to collect the seeds for sowing the following spring.
Last updated: 4/27/16
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