SHISO (Perilla frutescens) is a hardy annual that comes in green and red varieties. Both varieties are edible, as are their flowers, though red shiso is more robust in flavor and generally used as a colorful accent (to turn vinegar or steamed rice pink, toss in a few red shiso leaves). Native to Asia, shiso is known by many names, including perilla, Chinese or Japanese basil, beefsteak plant and purple mint. Plant seeds in early spring. They're slow starters -- sprouting in five to 15 days, maturing to 12 to 18 inches by about 70 days from planting -- but once they take, plants are hardy and will tolerate full sun to partial shade.
Shiso seeds are available at Hashimoto Nursery and Yamaguchi Nursery in Los Angeles and online at Evergreenseeds.com and Kitazawaseed.com. Seedlings will be available in March at garden centers including Armstrong Nurseries and Anawalt lumber stores.
-- Noelle Carter