What is shiso?

Shiso is a member of the mint family although it is also known as “Japanese basil.” The leaves are used for seasoning, pickling, garnishing, and batter frying as tempura. The leaves can be used whole or in strips. Shiso seeds are one of the 7 traditional spices of Japan. They can be sprinkled on salads or rice or ground for use in condiments. The flowers are flavorful garnishes as well, making the whole plant edible! We’ve also used shiso in pesto, salsa, fresh salads, relishes, and as a garnish for sashimi.

Rich in calcium and iron, shiso is known in East Asian culture for it’s rejuvenating effect. The name “shiso” is comprised of 2 Chinese characters: the first means “purple” and the second means “to bring back to life.” This name comes from a traditional Japanese story dating back nearly 1000 years ago. A young boy contracted food poisoning and was near death when a traveling doctor came and prepared a steeping of shiso leaves. The boy drank it and soon completely recovered. For this reason, shiso is known to this day as the herb that can return the dead to life.

Use shiso wherever you would use basil--in pasta sauces, pestos, or fresh salads. It also works well as a wrap--in Korea, it is used to wraps bits of barbecued meat, while in Japan it is frequently served with sashimi such as tuna or yellowtail. Shiso tempura is delicious--the effort to individually batter and fry each leaf is well worth the wonderful, nearly addictive taste. Here at the farm, Kumiko likes to saute fresh cut shiso with slices of Japanese eggplant and season it with miso--the shiso has a cooling effect, and the miso provides rejuvenation on the hot days of summer.