Purple Perilla

A Poisonous Weed for Fairy Gardens?
Or an Edible Dyestuff?

Purple Perilla Plant

Purple Perilla is the purple-leafed variety of the more familiar Green Perilla.  People often call Perilla by its Japanese name Shiso. 紫蘇   It’s also called Beefsteak Plant, and the green variety has a lot of uses, especially in Japanese cuisine. [1]

In the West, many people think of Purple Perilla as a weed. Some people fear that it is poisonous. A few people grow it as a decorative plant. Others say the beautiful purple plant is good for “faerie” gardens. [2]

Purple Perilla is used in Asia as a dyestuff.  The Japanese use it to color pickled plums. So, is Purple Perilla a toxic variant of the green variety?  Is it something that may be pretty in the garden, but risky to taste?

The answer — Botanists group all kinds of Perilla, whatever their color, under a single species, known as Perilla frutescens. So if Green Perilla is safe to eat, its purple cousin must be all right too.

Purple Perilla is less commonly used raw than the green type.  But Purple Perilla has been used for centuries in Asia, not only as a source of purple color, but also as an ingredient in dishes.  It’s used in China, Japan, India, Korea and some Southeastern Asian cuisines.

Does Perilla Have Any Nutritional Value? Perilla leaves are high in calcium, iron, potassium and riboflavin as well as Vitamins A and C.

One Japanese Study found, per 100 grams, Perilla leaves had

  • 7,200 micrograms of carotene — an unusually high level for any food — plus
  • 4,800 International Units of Vitamin A, also
  • 0.12 micrograms of Vitamin B1
  • 0.32 micrograms Vitamin B2
  • 1 milligram of niacin
  • 55 milligrams of Vitamin C.

The Green Perilla leaves contain even higher levels of carotene — 8,700 micrograms. [3]

Perilla has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in a number of Asian countries to help preserve foods.

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses Purple Perilla to promote the flow of qi in the spleen and stomach.  It also uses it to suppress coughs, ease symptoms of the common cold, and to help prevent nausea. [4]

Chinese cooks fry Purple Perilla leaves — known as zi su  —  紫蘇  (simplified  form  紫苏)  in oil with garlic or ginger.  We’ll come back to this soon.

Japanese use Purple Perilla leaves to wrap sashimi and the leaves appear deep-fried in tempura. Japanese use it to make a medicinal tea and a sweet drink for summer.  The purpose version of the plant is called aka shiso   赤紫蘇  or “red shiso” in the Japanese language.

Perilla Kimchi: Koreans use Purple Perilla to make a kind of kimchi, Kkaennip Kimchi. [5]

In India and Southeast Asia, Purple Perilla appears in several dishes, and is used to make kinds of noodles which are popular in Laos and Vietnam in summer.

Exotic Cocktail: You can use Purple Perilla leaves to make an exotic cocktail, called the Okinawa Island, which also uses Japanese melon liqueur, kumquats, pineapple, ginger — and gin. [6]

You can use Purple Perilla to make a very nice recipe from China’s Hunan Province, that calls for cooking the leaves with cucumber.

Although this dish is cooked in a wok, it isn’t a stir-fry, but is made by the Chinese cooking technique known as jian, pan-frying.

“The cucumber is both fragrant and juicily tender, and the Perilla gives it a delightful sour herbiness.”:–  Fucshia Dunlop


Cooking purple perilla using Chinese cooking technique jian

Pan Fried Cucumber with Purple Perilla
A Recipe from Fucsha Dunlop

Fuchsia Dunlop calls the dish Fried Cucumber with Purple Perilla )Zi Su Jian Huang Gua) and has made the recipe available online. [7] You can find more information in her book, Revolutionary Chinese Cooking. [8]

So Purple Perilla is safe to use in the kitchen, is beautiful in the garden, and can be handled almost the same way as Green Perilla.

You can use Purple Perilla to wrap your sashimi, use it in an exotic cocktail, or make a kimchi with it.  And use it to make a delicious Hunan dish with fried cucumber.  And enjoy the beautiful purple foliage in your faerie garden.

For further  information:

[1] “Perilla,” article, Wikipedia —  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perilla
[2] “Fairegarden — Purple Perilla,” —   http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/purple-perilla/
[3] Fumiko Matsumoto,Tadashii shokuseikatsu no tame no shokuhin seibunhyo  正しい食生活のための食品成分表 : 四訂. 1991年版  http://www.worldcat.org/title/tadashii-shokuseikatsu-no-tameno-shokuhin-seibunhyo-1991/oclc/673248926
[4] Traditional Chinese Medicine China – Intrduction to Purple Perilla Leaf —  http://www.tcmtreatment.com/herbs/0-zisu-sugeng.htm
[5] Kkaennip Kimchi (Perilla Leaf Kimchi) Recipe —  http://asiansupper.com/recipe/kkaennip-kimchi-perilla-leaves-kimchi
[6] Okinawa Island Cocktail —  http://www.midori-world.com/cocktail-recipe/varieties/okinawa_island.html
[7] Fried Cucumber with Purple Perilla —  http://www.publicradio.org/columns/splendid-table/recipes/side_friedcucumber.html
[8] Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook —   http://www.amazon.com/Fuchsia-Dunlop/e/B001IGLRVG


Purple Perilla Plant

3 thoughts on “Purple Perilla

  1. Pingback: Japanese Cuisine, a healthy and delicious food lifestyle | Pacific Rim Gourmet

  2. My wife ate a few purple perilla leaves yesterday and became deathly ill 4 hours later. She had had a cocktail containing vodka about an hour before eating the raw perilla. We’d love some more information about this.

    • Hard to say the cause of the incident you described. As described in the article, Purple Perilla is widely eaten in the cuisines of several Asian countries and is considered to have medicinal properties in the traditional medicines of several of them. It has been widely used for some centuries in preserving food, and there don’t seem to be any reports on food or alcohol reactions. So, while it’s unlikely Purple Perilla was the culprit in this case, since every individual is unique, maybe best to give it a pass if one has had a bad experience. This appears to be extremely rare, in any case.

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