Purple Perilla

August 21, 2009 new 019 (2)
There is a plant growing in the Fairegarden that is so common, so lowly, so plentiful that it is stepped upon without guilt, pulled without remorse and ignored on a regular basis.

September 8, 2009 009 (2)
It was brought here accidentally from the Tennessee garden where we were living when this house was purchased for our daughters to live in while attending college, in 1996. In the digging and potting up of plants to bring from the existing Fairegarden to the Annex, there must have been some seeds that snuck, or sneaked in the soil from the herb garden, for this plant is considered to be an herb, by some. Seeds are its means of world domination. The flowers are insignificant, as shown above, nearly invisible against the dark purple foliage.

Dark is the word best used to describe the whole plant, stems and all. It is the perfect filler for the Black Garden and is allowed to mature and set seed in that space to be sure of having future generations of the frilly foliage to complement the bright Croscosmias, among others. Perilla frutescens ‘Atropurpurea’ is an annual, but is so reliable a germinator that it will be here forever. Even if the entire garden were paved over in concrete, this plant would find a crack in which to grow up. In fact, it loves to seed about in the gravel paths, preferring stone to soil. Good drainage is a must.

Many plants love to seed in the gravel paths, as seen in the warts and all shot of the lax weeding methods being applied this summer. Foot traffic is the laziest best way to keep the paths somewhat clear, treading in the middle to squish emerging unwanteds. The gravel is our nursery and when good guys reach a transplantable size, they are easily pulled and replanted elsewhere, the entire root system intact. The Perilla is simply left to grow in a few spots, the rest is pulled, eventually.

Since Perilla is so high up in the hierarchy of weed status here, imagine our surprise and amusement when it was found to be mentioned in the rarified pages of the English gardening magazine Gardens Illustrated as a featured plant in Jekka McVikar’s herb border design. (Issue 174, pages 66-69.) She suggests using this plant as an edible, but I am wary of it, having read about toxicity issues, including that all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. As an ornamental, however, it is first rate. Still, Perilla is a traditional crop of China, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other Asian countries and seems to be used extensively in traditional dishes there. In North America, it is occasionally called by its Japanese name, shiso (various spellings on this one), and/or beefsteak plant, wild coleus or Chinese basil, but is not included on most menus.

Culinary questions aside, the purple Perilla is a first rate garden plant, even if it is an assertive annual self sowing overachiever. The large crinkly edged leaves are exactly the weapon to do battle with the dreaded Little Leaf Syndrome that can afflict hot, dry and sunny spots, but Perilla is equally at home in partial shade, as well. The color of the leaves recedes when used alone, but give it a lighter shade of pale to play with, and the results will please even the most discerning colorist. Shown above with Sedum ‘Mediovariegatum’.


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32 Responses to Purple Perilla

  1. … But it is a wonderful colour, love it! (Probably too wet for it here though)

    Hi Karen, thanks for dropping by, so nice to see you here. To be honest, the Perilla is taken for granted here, sometimes even kicked in disgust. Shame on me, it adds much to the garden. Maybe you could grow it in a pot?

  2. Cindy says:

    Mine is thriving happily in a wet shady site (clay at that) more so than in the dry soil under pines! Go figure! I like to put it in pots for contrast when designing!
    Thanks for the article as I had been considering trying to add this to salads after reading about it being edible. Good to read of its toxicity! Love your site (from a former middle TN gal)

    Hi Cindy, thanks for adding that. I am glad to hear you are having no trouble growing the perilla in wetter circumstances. As for eating it, we have plenty of other plants to add to a salad, like the wonderful Nasturtiums. Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Carol says:

    There is no Perilla in my garden. I’d have to think a bit about it before I unleashed it here.

    Hi Carol, thanks for visiting. Perilla can be a thug, there is no doubt, if allowed to seed. The good news is that the seedlings are extremely easy to identify and pull, being solid dark purple. We are happy to have it here.

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I remember reading about this plant before. I have never seen it for sale around here. I think the dark leaves are very striking. I could find a place for it in my garden. Have a great weekend Frances.

    Hi Lisa, thanks and may you too have a great weekend. I would be surprised to see this Perilla for sale, it would be like seeing dandelions potted up. And yet, those are edible, too. Look for seeds.

  5. Mary Adams says:

    Maybe you could take just a teeny tiny bite.
    I love your home and yard and look forward to following your site.
    Mary A.

    Thanks Mary Ann, I am glad you like what you see in the Fairegarden. As for that bite…you first!

  6. I do buy Perilla each year as an annual for the garden bed. It is a different variety than yours with multicolored leaves like a coleus. It grows about three feet tall. We call it Magilla Gorilla, and so far it has never reseeded probably too cold here.


    Hi Eileen, thanks for mentioning the cultivar Magilla Perilla. It is sterile and sold at nurseries. We had it here one year, but decided why bother when there is so much of the straight species already growing all over the place.

  7. I have the same attitude towards PP in my garden. I like it on occasion, keep, pull, trod on, there is no guilt, since there is always tomorrow.

    Hi Helen, thanks for stopping by. Yes, we do take it for granted, but one year I almost lost it in a fit of weeding! That was years ago, of course.

  8. Sandra Jonas says:

    Wonderful post! Perilla followed me from Mass. to Georgia! It only takes a few seeds…..I’ll have it forever.
    I love the colour and it adds so much to the garden. I let it seed with Cleome and it carries one part of the garden through the months of July & August, where all the early bloomers are done.

    Thanks Sandra. It is a good plant to take us into fall, I forgot to mention that! The color goes so well with the turning foliage.

  9. I’m a huge fan of such deep purpleness. Not only does it grow at a satisfying rate and get large, the color is nearly impossible to replicate in a garden, outside of Coleus or the purpurea Coral Bells. I enjoy the heck out of this plant, Francis. I can see why you couldn’t, in all good conscience, get rid of it.

    Hi Steve, thanks for dropping by. The color is so dark, makes everything else shine in comparison. If it weren’t so easy to grow, we might appreciate it more.

  10. Racquel says:

    It’s striking against that variegated sedum and I love the deep burgundy color. Of course I don’t need another plant that wants to reseed itself freely around my garden. 😉

    Hi Racquel, thanks. We welcome the self sowers here, they help fill in to keep the other weeds from germinating. This one is so easily identified and pulled, you might actually want some!

  11. Gail says:

    I treat it much the same as you do Frances.; leave it where it looks best and rip it out where it’s a pest. I appreciate the pop of purple and love the smell of its crushed leaves. xxoogail

    Hi Gail, thanks for visiting. Perilla has many good qualities, including that herbal smell. I would hate to be without it.

  12. Ann Rein says:

    Perilla has finally made its way into my garden, most likely via a plant from my mother’s garden, Grecian Foxglove (yes, I know, it’s on the noxious weed list, but I have to say it’s pretty well behaved for us around here) – I took a plant from her last year. I love them both!

    Hi Ann, thanks for adding in here. I had to look up your Grecian Foxglove and was surprised to see it is something I am trying to get started here, Digitalis lanata! Seeds have been sown. Our state is not on the weed list, but hopes are it will still be happy here, if it ever germinates.

  13. Rose says:

    You are lucky to have such a pretty self-seeder, Frances. I love the contrast of the purple frilled foliage against the green of other plants. I wonder if it grows in zone 5–it could duke it out in my garden with the goldenrod and obedient plant.

    I should have left a comment yesterday, but I completely forgot what day it was until Beckie reminded me last night–did you send Ringo a birthday card??

    Thanks Rose. Since this is an annual, I am sure it would grow for you. But I am ashamed to admit to forgetting our boy’s birthday! Thanks for the reminder. HA

  14. Hmmm, I had not known of the possible toxicity before. I bought some in the produce section at the local Asian grocery store and tried to root the stems in water, but they all rotted. Which is strange, because it looks like one of those minty things that form roots in about a day and a half. I did taste it before trying to grow it and thought it unusual but good. If I try again, I’ll start with seeds. 😉

    Hi Tangled, thanks for visiting, nice to see you here. I was hoping someone would explain how to cook, or eat this, and maybe why the online sources say it is toxic. Guess you are still alive after the taste!

  15. Bridget says:

    I tried growing that in my polytunnel a few years ago as an edible plant. It grew ok but the flavour is pretty bland and I’m still alive! Would love it self-seeding in the garden though as it’s a fab colour.

    Hi Bridget, good to hear you are still alive! As a garden ornamental, it is great.

  16. Denise says:

    I’d love to add this one to the mix of self-sowers, though so far it hasn’t been happy here in SoCal. I’ve got the chartreuse/hot pink-flowered Miracle of Peru/Mirabilis jalapa self-sowing. Imagine those two together.

    Hi Denise, thanks for visiting. Your Mirabilis sounds divine, and would certainly look good with the purple perilla if you can get it going there.

  17. Lola says:

    Loved the purple against the lighter plants. I will have to see if it will survive here. Not crazy about spreading plants but that one would give me some dark color that I need.
    Strange it is edible due to toxicity.

    Thanks Lola. The color is remarkable and the unwanteds are easily pulled. Just don’t let it bloom would be a good way to handle the invasiveness. I don’t know about the toxicity issues, but would not eat it myself.

  18. Elizabeth McLeod says:

    I do not see Perilla here in BC, Canada, but for the mere fact that the color is so dark it makes a great contrast in a garden! Thanks once again for educating me.

    Hi Elizabeth, thanks for visiting. I have never seen this for sale either, ordered seeds one time long ago.

  19. It is beautiful. I’ve never grown it.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, it is very pretty. You might want to try it, but beware the self seeding. It is very drought tolerant and heat tolerant though.

  20. Nicole says:

    I have eaten purple and green shisho for years in Asia and in Asian restaurants in San Francisco- shiso tempura is quite popular. I have grown and used the green shiso in salads and pesto. I believe it is toxic to cattle and grazing animals. Never heard about it being toxic to humans, but then I do not know if yours is the same edible variety. Crushed, its is a good additive to shampoo your hair.

    Oh Nicole, I am happy to hear of your experience eating the Perilla. I did see it was toxic to horses when doing the research to write this post. Dave’s Garden site called all parts of it toxic. Now the shampoo thing is intriguing.

  21. It’s a beauty, such gorgeous color. I might have to try it from seed next year, then deadhead the living daylights out of it.

    Hi MMD, it is beautiful. The foliage is strong and crisp and can take the drought, but do watch out for babies!

  22. Tatyana says:

    Hi Frances! I’ve never heard about this plant. I like the shape of its foliage and especially its color. If it’s a weed, then it’s a very pretty weed, and I wish I could trade some of my weeds for it!

    Hi Tatyana, thanks for visiting, nice to see you here. This plant is rarely sold, if ever, but seeds are available. Look in the herbal section. It is pretty, if aggressive.

  23. Alistair says:

    Hello Frances, when at one time when we entered the gardening competitions, Perilla was a favourite for dotting between the Summer annuals. Not likely to self seed here, in fact it is seen as a half hardy annual. This is the first time I have heard anyone make reference to this old favourite of ours. Thoroughly enjoyed your post on it.

    Hi Alistair, thanks for adding that. The foliage color is the perfect foil for brightly colored annuals. It is worth using for that reason alone. Not self seeding might also be considered a good thing.

  24. It is a good plant for hot and dry. I’ve avoided it due to the world domination theory. Now that you’ve shown the positive side of this plant, I may throw down a few seeds–though, Heaven help it if it finds its way into The Musician’s weed-free gravel garden where nothing is out of place! I have one of McVikar’s herb books and it is quite lovely and packed with info.

    Hi Freda, thanks for stopping by. The sources say it is moderately deer-proof. Maybe it would work in the outer limits for you? If deadheaded regularly, one assumes it could even grow in a pristine gravel garden, as well.

  25. This may be more than you wanted to know, but I did a little internet research so thought I’d share it here.

    Perilla frutescens is one of those mint family species which has a number of chemical variants, called chemotypes. Think of all the different flavors of basils, mints, sages, etc. The chemotype PK is so named because it is high in perilla ketone, and that chemical has been identified as a source of livestock poisoning. Apparently, grazing livestock will usually avoid Perilla, but it sometimes ends up in hay.

    The chemotype PA is the one with culinary uses in many east Asian cuisines, and is high in perillaldehyde (and low or absent perilla ketone?).

    So, how to know which is which? I assume that if the cut herb is bought in a grocery store, or seeds identified as a culinary herb are bought from a reputable supplier, then those plants are edible. But if the plants/seeds are sold as ornamental, then it’s anybody’s guess.

    Here are a couple of good links on the subject:
    http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Peri_fru.html (Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages)
    http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/WS-43-W.pdf (Purdue pasture weed management bulletin)

    Thank you, thank you! This is the exact information we needed! I do appreciate your sharing it here.

  26. David says:

    I’m not familiar with this plant, but it would be stunning by lime green sweet potato vines. We had a purple basil that had similar grown habits…growing everywhere it wanted. We just ate the wrongdoers. Nice post and wonderful blog.
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston 🙂

    Hi David, thanks for visiting and those kind words. The color of the foliage is wonderful for setting off the assets of other plants. The sweet potato would be perfect with it. We have grown the purple ruffles basil, and wish it was as vigorous as the Perilla. It would be featured in many meals here.

  27. I’ve grown and eaten exactly this variety, which was sold to me as an edible. It is eaten in the Vietnamese cool noodle salad, “bun”, which was why I bought it; like coriander or mint, it cools you on hot sticky days. You don’t eat a lot of it, though.

    Thanks for adding in here, Chookie. That is what I had read, don’t eat too much of it, but how do you know how much is too much? And why take the risk?

  28. Well, I’d never considered that a food served in restaurants might be poisonous! (Well, apart from that fugu fish in Japan!) You will note that the Wikipedia article is largely about culinary uses, so I expect either that humans aren’t affected by PK or simply don’t eat it in large enough quantities to develop problems.

    Perilla is not something you *can* eat a lot of, I meant, any more than you could eat a lot of rosemary.

    Chookie, I know!!! It defies reason! You are right about the rosemary, I never thought of it that way. Thanks.

  29. I don’t know if there is a limit to the amount that anyone should consume, but I would advise limiting the amount as you would with any other herb. That being said, I’ve grown up eating 3 different varieties of perilla, including the purple perilla variety that you’re growing. The seeds are said to contain healthy omega-3s. Asian stores sell perilla oil which tastes like sesame oil. The purple (usually called red) is used when pickling plums in Japan. It gives them a bright red color. The leaves can be eaten, as well as the flowers and seeds. I personally prefer the green perilla (the leaves grow much bigger and tend to be more tender), but both are great. I also found that the green variety grows more vigorously and is less susceptible to bugs in my garden.

    The green perilla leaves are often served in fancy sushi. I chiffonade the leaves and use it in place of cilantro in a variety of dishes. Not quite the same in flavor, but it still works well as a substitute. They’re also great in Thai summer wraps. The flowers and seeds can be lightly tempura battered and fried crisp (you’ll just have to nibble around the tough stems). BTW, basil flowers and seeds – and sage leaves – are delicious when fried this way too!

    Recently, I’ve started to dry the perilla leaves in the fall (just dried 3 huge batches) for tea. The tea tends to taste a little grassy – I dried and added the seed pods, which helped a little. But the tea may help to relieve allergy and head/chest cold symptoms. Not sure if it works…will have to catch a cold before I can make a true assessment…!!

    Thanks so much GBR, this is a lot of detailed information, a comment that turned into a post! I do appreciate your sharing your first hand experience with the Perilla. We have some green leaf plants that just turned up here, they are larger and more robust, as you say. Maybe I will try a teensy taste. Good luck with your tea experiment, but stay healthy and not needing it is the best.

    Hope you enjoy nibbling on your perilla! I am so addicted to it, that I can personally vouch that I have never suffered any ill effects despite the massive quantities that I consume over the summer. And I do mean MASSIVE!!

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