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Perilla leaves are medium to large in size and broad and round to spade-shaped, averaging 7-12 centimeters in length and 5-8 centimeters in width. The leaves have a slightly fuzzy or hairy texture and are vibrant green on the top and green to purple on the underside. Perilla leaves have serrated edges that taper to a point on the non-stem end, and the plant’s stems are square, green, and hairy. The leaves are highly aromatic and are grassy and herbaceous in flavor with nuances of mint, basil, and anise.
Perilla leaves are available year-round.
Perilla leaves, botanically classified as Perilla frutescens, grow on an annual plant that can reach up to ninety centimeters in height and are members of the Lamiaceae, or mint family. Also known as Kkaennip, Kka Nnip, Beefsteak plant, Wild Coleus, Purple mint, and Shiso, Perilla is a term used to describe a variety of different species within the mint family. There is often some confusion surrounding the names for Perilla leaves because kkaennip or kka nnip in English translates to sesame leaf and as a result, many American recipes will refer to the leaf as such. Sesame leaves have no relation to Perilla leaves and the sesame seeds that are commonly used on bread. Perilla leaves are used for both their culinary and medicinal properties and are popularly used in Korean cuisine.
Perilla leaves are a nutrient-rich herb high in calcium, phosphorous, iron, and vitamins A, K, and C.
Perilla leaves can be used in both raw and cooked applications such as stir-frying, sautéing, or boiling. They are used as a wrap for rice, barbecued meats, sushi, and vegetables and are also popularly used in Korea to make kimchee by marinating the leaves for an extended period with soy sauce, herbs, and spices. Perilla leaves can be sliced raw and added to salads or sliced and mixed into savory pancakes, bread, and stir-fries. They can also be deep-fried in batter and consumed as a crunchy side dish. The flavor of Perilla leaves pairs well with chili, garlic, soy sauce, tofu, grilled meats such as fish, chicken, and beef, citrus, plums, green tea, and soft cheeses. Perilla leaves will keep for a couple of days when wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Perilla leaves can also be preserved in soy sauce or blanched and stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Perilla leaves have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help treat symptoms of a variety of health issues such as morning sickness, food-related nausea, cough, and chest congestion. In Chinese, they are known as zisu, zi meaning purple and su meaning comfort. Perilla leaves are believed to provide a soothing quality that can help reduce symptoms of colds, food poisoning, and can be applied topically to soothe bug bites. In Korea, the leaves are also commonly eaten with preserved and grilled meats as the leaves are believed to have anti-carcinogenic properties, can help clear sodium nitrates from the body, and have anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce the severity of allergies.
Perilla leaves are native to the mountainous regions of Asia and were first documented in a medicinal formula dating back to the Song Dynasty noted in a book called, Taiping Huimin Hejiju Fang written in 1110 BCE. They were then spread throughout the rest of Asia via trade routes and immigrants and were brought to the United States in the late 1800s. Today Perilla leaves can be found at fresh markets and specialty grocers in Asia, Southeast Asia, and the United States.
Recipes that include Perilla Leaves. One is easiest, three is harder.