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Foraging For Shiso (Japanese Basil)

Foraging for Shiso (or Perilla, or beefsteak plant, or Japanese Basil) is easy and fun! Shiso, in the mint family, is easy to identify, delicious, and has spread to grow in the wild.

It is often used in Japan as seasoning, in salads, for pickling, or wrapped around sashimi.

purple and green japanese basil, aka shiso or perilla

I discovered Shiso in typical homesteading fashion. While I was weeding my garden I found a particularly fragrant weed.

It smelled like a mixture of mint and licorice. On a whim, I transplanted the little weeds to an empty planter box and decided to investigate them further.

Turns out what I had naturally growing in my garden was Shiso (or Perilla, or beefsteak plant, or Japanese Basil).

It is often used in Japan as seasoning, in salads, for pickling, or wrapped around sashimi. In fact, our favorite sushi restaurant serves shiso leaves next to our sashimi.

purple japanese basil, aka shiso or perilla

foraging for Shiso

Native to China and India, shiso has now been spread world-wide. Like others in the mint family, they are hardy, spread readily and adapt to many different ecosystems.

The first written account of shiso was around 500 AD in China. It became available to English gardeners by 1855 and was introduced to the United States sometime around 1860s.

You’ll know it by the spade shape of the leaves, the dark green and purple coloring, and the distinct smell when you pinch the leaves.

Don’t let the coloring confuse you. Some shiso can be dark purple, some completely green, and a number of variations in between.

It smells like a mixture between mint and licorice.

Fore more foraging posts, check out:

Medicinal Benefits of Shiso

Medicinally, the leaves are harvested and dried into a tea.

It is said to help with morning sickness, is anti-inflammatory and can be used for certain skin allergies.

It has also been known to aid in breaking up a congested chest.

My step daughter always seems to pick up a cold when she visits for the summer, and Shiso tea never fails to help break up the mucus in her chest within a few days.

purple and green japanese basil, aka shiso or perilla

Culinary Uses of Shiso

While often found accompanying sushi, or wrapped around sashimi, there are many other uses for shiso.

Red shiso is used in the making of pickled plums to give the plums a red color.

Purple shiso is dried and pulverized into flakes and mixed with salt to make a seasoning called yukari as well as mixed with other seasonings made to be mixed into rice or mixed into onigiri (rice balls).

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