“It’ll take over,” our neighbor warned, “I cannot believe you planted Perilla.” But, I didn’t plant it. Perilla just happens. This was years ago, and was the first time I’d heard the name. Until then, I only knew it as the maroon thing that fluffed in every flower bed (and pot and driveway crack) if allowed, and that the leaves looked like basil but smelled like licorice.
Perilla frutescens hails from Asia, where it is planted—on purpose—as a crop. Here, it is a successful escapee. It is in the mint family (as is basil, by the way), and in my wildflower books goes by the antiquated English name “beefsteak plant.” I still don’t know if the beefsteak comes from the medium-rare meat color, or the smell, or if it was used to flavor meat, or . . . ?
And then last year, I made another connection. This Nashville weed is, in a different context, shiso. Shiso! An important plant—with many names—in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. In traditional Chinese medicine it is a remedy.
But what thrilled me most was the realization that Perilla is an integral part of the macrobiotic magic bullet: the famous, cures-what-ails-you umeboshi plum. The leaves are what wrap every umeboshi plum ever, including the organic ones in my fridge at that moment. Perilla imbues the plum and vinegar with the characteristic red tinge and peculiar taste.
So, the things in my fridge, via bottles of umeboshi vinegar and the jar of plums, and the thing in my purse, via dried umeboshi pellets, are all connected to the thing growing in my driveway.
I love when subsets of my life intersect.
By the way, my neighbor was right: Perilla can spread aggressively by seed. I honestly don’t care about the neighbor’s yard because they mow and trim so often nothing but turf can survive, but I do worry about Perilla usurping native habitat in natural areas. I’ve seen it at Warner Parks, for example. And, I’ve read that although Perilla is good food for people, it can kill livestock. So, although I do let a few of my Perilla set seed, I pinch most flowers after the pollinators have had access but before seeds mature.
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Other plants in the Driveway-Crack series:
Driveway-Crack Flowers: White Clover
Driveway-Crack Flowers: True Blue (Asiatic dayflower)
Driveway-Crack Flowers: Venus’s Looking Glass
Driveway-Crack Flowers: Evening Primrose