Photos of Perilla frutescens, Perilla, zi su, zi su geng (stem), zi su ye (leaf), zi zu zi (fruit), beefsteak plant, shiso, 紫苏属, zi su shu

Perilla is native to SE Asia, widely naturalized and weedy elsewhere after introduction. Easily grown from seed; self-sows freely. It’s an annual member of the mint family. The genus Perilla is represented by a single species. The flavor and fragrance are piquant, oily, and thick, with an overtone that nips the nose. The sounds of a walk through a patch of dried perilla gone-to-seed on any old abandoned Ozark road earns it the name rattlesnake weed. In China, those dried seed tops called zi-su-geng, used in prescriptions in Traditional Chinese Medicine for abdominal fullness and distention, stagnation of vital energy, difficulty in digesting food, morning sickness, and excessive fetal movement. A strong tea of dried leaves, combined with three large slices of fresh ginger, then drunk frequently, given as an antidote for discomfort from eating too much crab meat or fish. The seeds used in asthma, coughs, and wheezing. They are antitussive and resolve sputum. In Japan, cultivated for seed production of a quick-drying fixed oil used in place of linseed oil for lacquers, inks, oil papers, artificial leather, paper umbrellas, and waterproof cloth. The oil is glossier, tougher, harder, of greater durability, more water resistant than linseed oil and it dries in about a third the time; yet it yellows, cracks, and shrivels when exposed to heat.

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