This year the shiso is growing everywhere, three kinds– green, red, and bi-color. Last year we let all the shiso go to seed and the plant– lush, resilient, and exuberant — has placed itself into every nook and cranny in the garden: in between the tomatoes, in the path, under the fence, around the lilies, behind the compost, beneath JB’s steel sculpture, even around the coils of the garden hose. We use the leaves fresh, but this is the first year we have decided to also dry the leaves, having read of it being used for tea and dried spice.
Shiso is in the mint family (perhaps that is why it is so easy to grow!) and, depending on which variety you are consuming, has a different balance of anise, cinnamon, clove, licorice, and basil flavors. If you have eaten at Japanese restaurants before you have probably seen it, usually aesthetically placed underneath the small mound of wasabi on the plate. Our son fell in love with shiso when he was teaching in Japan and brought his love for Ume Shiso Maki home with him.
My mother’s favorite flavor was licorice and anise. She could easily polish off a bag of black licorice (laces, twists, ropes, vines or wheels) as if it were a bowl of popcorn. And today is her birthday. She (and her twin) would have been 93. To celebrate, I am drying three kinds of shiso. She would have loved shiso. She would have loved it sprinkled, fresh or dry, on all her food. It would have made every meal for her seem like dessert.