by Lisa Giroday, Sandra Lopuch and Sam Philips | Shiso, also known as Perilla (or, botanically speaking, Perilla frutescens), is an annual plant that belongs to the mint family. This is not surprising, as there are hundreds of varieties of mint (one can tell by looking to see if the stem is squared on the corners and not rounded). There are both purple and green leaf varieties of shiso, and the plant has frilly, ruffled leaves; it looks like a cross between a basil plant and mint plant. Further digression: did you know that red shiso’s primary use is to colour umeboshi (pickled plum)? When combined with the brine (umezu), the red shiso leaf reacts and alters the colour.
A little shiso goes a long way, so whether you have a small container garden or a larger one, consider growing some of the stuff. It has a beautiful, distinct flavour with hints of cinnamon and anise, not to mention a completely intoxicating perfume that has a little je ne sais quoi to it. Shiso also runs a gamut of culinary uses, and, of particular interest, it performs well in cocktails (alcoholic and otherwise).
Last summer our friends at the Acorn Restaurant had a to-die-for cocktail called East Meets West that called for coconut-infused Cazadores Blanco, Cointreau, shiso agave syrup, fresh lime, and a toasted coconut salt rim. Hello! Hopefully they introduce another shiso cocktail this season (hint, hint). At home, opt for something simple involving a little gin, cucumber, shiso, and lime in a Collins glass.
How to Grow Shiso | It’s easier to find organic transplants than seeds, but Salt Spring Seeds (of course) has both green and purple shiso. We stock organic shiso transplants, as does Figaro’s Garden on Victoria Drive. Feel free to seed or transplant outside during this time. Shiso loves full sun, but does well in the shadier areas as well. One benefit to growing your own shiso from seed are the micro greens (mejiso) that you will get through the process of thinning. Yum!
Victory Gardens is a team of local urban farmers for hire. Lisa, Sandra and Sam help transform tired or underused residential and commercial green spaces into food producing gardens. Their goal is to challenge the way communities use space and to participate in the change needed to consume food more sustainably. For the rest of the growing season, they’ve hooked up with Scout to share some cool tips and tricks on how to get the best from of our own backyards.