I learned about shiso while I was living in Japan. I developed a near-addiction to ume shiso onigiri (in addition to a deep love of umeboshi….I can suck on those pickled plums all day long! Yes, I know that sounds dirty, and I don’t care. Umeboshi are awesome! :o) It had never occurred to me to ever try to grow a live shiso plant, though.
However, I discovered a shiso plant at the nursery where I bought my chocolate mint. Unfortunately, the nursery worker who was so helpful in warning us not to plant mint in the ground did not give us any such warning with the shiso. I planted the single shiso plant in a container, it died off in the fall, and then several dozen little shiso plants appeared ALL OVER my container garden the following spring. In fact, I pulled at least 8 decent sized shiso sprouts out of my pineapple mint container, which was several feet away from the original shiso plant. I am not sure when, but it spread seeds, and it spread like crazy. Even a caterpillar attack early in the summer did not slow the shiso down (but my poor pineapple mint is still struggling to recover!)
Although shiso is sometimes called “Japanese Basil”, it is actually related to mint. I wonder if that relation is what made the pineapple mint container so attractive to all those shiso sprouts. It certainly may explain its prolific growth rate. The taste is much closer to basil than it is to mint, though (hence the moniker “Japanese Basil”. It is sometimes called Beefsteak or Perilla, as well.) We use shiso much as we would use basil, though: chopped and added to salads, stir frys, sandwiches, and sauces. It is also really good in caprese salad; the recipe is below.
Here are some more ideas for using shiso: