Sometimes it absolutely amazes me what we can grow in the far North of Canada. Artichokes, asparagus, eggplants, golden berries and even occasionally ginger and tumeric …. I now add a new exotic flavour that can be grown in the North – shiso leaves! Until this year I had never even heard of shiso. I am now a huge fan, thanks to Carol Ann Gingras of Whitehorse, who introduced me to this herb and sent me some of her Yukon-grown plants.
Shiso leaves taste exotic! To me, it is the taste of cumin combined with a hint of cardomon. For others it has been described as a combination of spearmint, basil, anise and cinnamon. Shiso (pronounced she-so), Perilla frutescens, is an Asian herb – used commonly in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and China – and a member of the mint family. It was introduced to North America in the late 1800’s but only introduced to me in 2018!
Although it flourishes in the southeaster USA, I would never have guessed how well it thrives during a Yukon summer. Its large leaves can be used to scoop up food or as a wrap for fish, meat and sushi. The fresh leaves, sliced in thin strips to bring out the flavour, can be added to soups, stir-fry, rice, scrambled eggs, salads, even fruit – almost anything, really. The leaves can be air-dried or frozen to use during the winter. Dried, the leaves can also be used as a flavourful tea. The leaves are high in calcium and iron. Apparently shiso buds and sprouts are also delicious and the seeds can be toasted and crushed and sprinkled on fish.
If you plant shiso in pots, let the plants go to seed and bring them inside before the first frost, then the plants will self-seed for spring. Here’s hoping my shiso plants will self-seed so they can become a regular part of my on-going Dawson local diet!