Thursday 6 March 2008

She says Shi So

Perilla frutescens is in the UK most often found as an ornamental bedding plant in many a civic beautification scheme. Looking a little like a cross between a coleus and a basil the Victorians loved it, a colourful annual that seems to have been easy to breed into various outlandish forms sufficient to guarantee its inclusion in many a seed catalogue without further benefits but in the Orient it is an essential cooking herb. There are purple and green types and the size of the leaves and even the scent varies from cultivar to cultivar which provides huge scope for local preferences.

There are varieties of the plant in the cuisines of Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia and in China it is used as a traditional medicine for strengthening the immune system. Essential for colouring umeboshi plum pickles it is used in many other dishes from to salads and kimchi. I've even found a recipe for a cooling drink made from it on this lovely Japanese blog

I can't grow perilla. Since I can't grow it, I can't take pictures of it but if you need to know what I'm talking about here is a picture taken by Stephen Buchan which he has kindly allowed me to use:

© All rights reserved Stephan Buchan 2007.
Image © All rights reserved Stephen Buchan 2007.

and here shows a Korean version. I'd like to grow it because it would be marvellous to have that extra edge of authenticity in my cooking and because it would be an asset in the herb garden, being so ornamental and all that.

I've never understood why I find it so hard to get the plants to grow for me. Each year I buy fresh seed and try another variation of the many published methods for ensuring a successful germination. Nothing happens. At all. It doesn't help that none of the people I've spoken to about this have anything like the problems I do. According to them it's as easy as anything and they have absolutely no trouble.

I was beginning to wonder if I was cursed and did in fact start this blog entry purely for the release of having a right old whinge about it when I found this site which may finally have provided the clue I've been looking for. It says:

NOTE: One of the challenges in growing Perilla is to handle the seed germination issue. Perilla seeds have dormant characteristics and seeds will not germinate during this period. The dormant period can begin any time just after the fresh seeds harvested and may end, unpredictably, in 1-2 years. Seeds will have good germination after this dormant period finished. Therefore many experienced farmers prefer to use post-dormant old seeds than pre-dormant fresh seeds in planting. It has been reported that the dormant period can be broken and shorten if seeds kept in a low temperature, 35-45 F, for at least 1-3 months. Therefore it is suggested to seal seeds in a bag and store it in a refrigerator(not freezer) if not to be planting soon.

Oh the relief. It's not me! Well, not for another year anyway.


Celia Hart said...

Hi Cat of Stripes!

I saw your comment on Book the Cook about Carlin Peas and thought you must have a garden full of interesting things!

When I saw Shi So I was thrilled - she knows how to grow it I thought! I fell in love with shiso on holiday in Japan and realised that those little bits of green fringed paper in boxes of Waitrose sushi are meant to be shiso leaves!!!! Shiso tempura = heaven IMO.

Now, did I throw the old packet of Perilla away? I'm going to have another go.

Thank you!

PS if you fancy doing a veg seed swap, email me

Catofstripes said...

Good luck with it! I fear I may have thrown out those old 'useless' packets of seed. Hoping I'm not going to have to wait another year.

I've just realised how old some of my seeds are, not fit for swapping but if I can grow out some for fresh seed I'd love to make an exchange next year.