Shiso, also known as ‘Japanese Basil’, raises a question with all who taste it: is it a basil or a mint? Neither one nor the other, Shiso has a unique taste that is hard to describe. Some say it’s ‘citrusy’, while others call it ‘herbaceous’ – and others still call it ‘sweet’! What is undisputable is that it can be used to give flavour and colour to many different Japanese dishes, from umeboshi to sushi and sashimi. Its green and purple, jagged-edged leaves are becoming more widely used in Western gourmet cooking and mixology, although it has been around since Victorian times, when shiso was popular as a landscape plant. And its appeal extends beyond its crazy flavour and attractive appearance – the old martial-arts masters claimed that shiso kept them flexible, youthful and vital. Perhaps it’s true – it’s worth a try!
TIMING Germination 7-15 days Harvesting 40-60 days
SPACING When sowing 1-3 cm; Depth 0,5 cm When thinning 3-5 cm
GROWING Sunligth Full sun to partial shade. Soil Well-drained, light and moist soil. Watering Regular watering, not overdone. Feeding Addition of fertilizer is not necessary.
CARING Expert tip To give a germination a jump start, soak your shiso seeds overnight before sowing. Also, sow more seeds than you need, keeping the soil constantly moist. If you need to thin them, they won’t go to waste – you can eat removed sprouts in salads.
SUPPORTING Pollinators Attracts bees, butterflies. Pests Repels aphids and mosquitoes.
HARVESTING Pinch out leaves as you need them. Since it’s an invasive species, you will keep the self-seeding to a minimum by cutting off the flower heads as they form. Shiso leaves rapidly lose flavour and aroma when dried, so this is not a suitable way to preserve shiso.
EATING Medicinal properties Asian herbalists use shiso as a medicine to treat coughs and lung problems. How to eat Using shiso in cocktails is the latest trend in mixology. It can replace mint in Mojitos and Juleps to provide zinged-up versions of these old favourites. It also works well in vodka-based cocktails – add a green shiso green leaf for an outstanding Martini!