Even if you don’t recognize the name, perilla frutescens, there is a strong chance you have come across this herb at some point in your lifetime. Other common names for this herb are perilla, shiso, wild basil, chinese basil, wild red basil, purple mint, rattlesnake weed, and summer coleus.

This basil is a kind that is categorized in the Lamiaceae family. This family also includes mint. Perilla frutescen grows as an annual herb.


The perilla plant grows and is used worldwide today, but originally it was native to Southeast Asia and the Indian highlands. It has been grown in Southern China, India, and eventually Korea. In fact, it was introduced to Korean farmers and culture sometime before 600 AD. As a result, it has had several centuries to become entrenched in the local cuisine and healing arts. The Korean name for the plant is often mistranslated into English as Wild Sesame.

In the 1800’s, Asian immigrants brought perilla frutescens to the continental United States. The plant naturalized rapidly to the local environment. In fact, it grew like a weed across the nation. Today, it can be found growing wild in the United States, especially the eastern half of the country and Washington state.

How to Recognize Perilla Plants

A perilla plant is distinct. It has hairy and thick square stalks – giving it a height somewhere between 60 and 90 centimeters tall, or from 24 to 35 inches high. The leaves are green and purple, oval-shaped with pointed tips, and have rough, serrated edges and sit on overly long leafstalks.

It is an annual plant, and has flowers that bloom between August and September, or late summer in the local climate. Typically, these flowers are dark, rich purple shades.

Many people consider perilla a weed. Probably because it’s found growing quickly alongside roads, in pastures, basking in sunny fields, or open woodlands. If planted in gardens, this plant always attracts butterflies, due to its numerous flowers and aromatic, minty smell.

One main characteristic of this plant are the large, reddish or purplish leaves, which can measure up to six inches in diameter. The sheer size combined with the color reminds many of beefsteak, and many people call it a beefsteak plant.

Uses for Food and Medicine

Due to the rich history and migratory nature of perilla frutescens, its uses vary for both food and medicine. Uses also change depending on the local culture and country.

perilla frutescens


The leaves of the perilla plant have a sweet and aromatic flavor. Thus, it is generally cooked with rich foods such as fish, rice, with veggies, or in soups.

In China, perilla leaves are wrapped in a glutinous bun and filled with red bean paste. This food is consumed on some holidays, but mostly the country uses perilla for medicinal uses.

Japanese call the plant egoma, and here the flavor isn’t used in many local dishes. However, in the Northern regions of the country, the perilla seeds are often used as a spice over different dishes. The locals say the seed can add ten years to your life.

Korean cuisine is perhaps the most influenced by the plant in Asian cultures. They eat it as both an herb and a vegetable. For example, they eat the perilla leaves, like in salads, or pickle them in soy cause, or even combine the leaves with soybean paste. The seeds are often pressed into oil. Perilla oil is key to many dishes for its unique and aromatic flavor.

Not surprisingly, the perilla plant is used in Nepal and parts of India, where it is called the silam, among other local names. Here, they combine roasted seeds with chilis and tomatoes to create a savory chutney or sauce over their foods.

Often, this herb is used as a substitute for basil, especially in Western dishes that are being made in the Asiatic regions.


Practically every part of the perilla plant is packed with nutrition. The seeds provide dietary fiber, and essential minerals like protein, iron, niacin, thiamine, and calcium. The leaves and stalks also contain calcium and iron, as well as potassium, vitamins A, C, and riboflavin.

The seed’s oil can be pressed out. Perilla oil provides anti-inflammatory medicinal uses, as well as amazingly high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help prevent cardiovascular diseases, cancer, arthritis, and more.

It has been a staple of Chinese and Asiatic medicines for centuries where it is used as an antiasthmatic, antidote, antiseptic, aromatic, restorative, expectorant, and more. Today, it can be used as treatment for a large variety of health issues including…

  • Colds
  • Asthma
  • Food poisoning
  • Constipation
  • Lung problems
  • Nausea
  • Allergic reactions
  • General restoration of physical health

One common use of the plant is to make Perilla Leaf Tea, which consists of one cup of the herb (dried) and one cup of boiling water. The leaves are steeped in the water for between 10 and 15 minutes. This tea can help colds or a sore throat, aid congestion. You can either drink it or simply enhale the aromatic steam.

Other Uses

The Perilla plant has uses beyond ingestion as food or medicine. If you come across the plant, rub the leaves on your clothes and skin to prevent against ticks if you are spending time outdoors.

The seed oil can be used as flavoring, or combined into paints, linoleum, or even printing ink. Some companies use it to create a protective coating to make cloth waterproof. The aromatic nature of the plant has led to its use in perfumes as well.

Weed or Healthy Lifestyle Herb

All in all, perilla frutescens remains a staple in cultures across the globe – even with the rapidly changing technology of modern medicine – due to its many benefits. Knowing more about what this plant has to offer can show you just how excellent this herb can be.

Image Source: Adobe Stock

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