Perilla seed is, as its name might suggest, the seed of the perilla plant, which grows prolifically in most parts of Eastern Asia. The seeds are often valued for their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used as a dietary supplement as well as a flavoring agent. Seeds are sometimes used in naturopathic medicine, too, often in combination with other herbs and tinctures. Their oils can be extracted and used medicinally, too. Cooks periodically use them as a seasoning and garnish, frequently in dishes that also feature the mildly flavored perilla leaves. Though they are all natural, the seeds aren’t always safe for everyone, particularly not in large quantities. Anyone interested in adding these seeds to their health regimen is usually wise to speak with a qualified medical practitioner first.
The source of these seeds is the perilla plant, known scientifically as Perilla frutescens. It is a member of the mint family, and there are numerous known varieties. All are native to Southeast and East Asia, most notably Laos, Vietnam, China, the Korean peninsula, and Japan. The plant is widely cultivated throughout this region both as an herbal supplement and a food.
The perilla is purplish in color and can reach up to two feet tall (0.61 meters). In early summer, scented flowers bloom. In many places the plant is self-pollinating, which means that it will bloom even without other plants nearby. This makes it relatively easy to cultivate and grow, even for beginners. Seeds usually appear in the flowers shortly after they bloom, and drop near the end of the season. The perilla seed itself is extremely small and fragile, measuring about a millimeter in size. Once the seeds are harvested they traditionally are dried in the sun, though commercial operations more often use industrial dryers.
Broad Health Benefits and Nutritional Profile
The seeds typically provide a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits for the body, and are thought to help improve everything from brain function to skin and hair strength. Each seed contains rich stores by volume, but people normally have to eat a lot in order to get enough to make a real difference. The seeds can be heated and pressed in order to release their oils, though, which can provide a more concentrated omega-3 punch.
Use in Natural Medicine
Natural medicine practitioners throughout Asia have long used this seed in tinctures and remedies. In Chinese medicine, the seed is believed to offer health benefits for the large intestines and the lungs. The seed is commonly used to resolve problems like asthma, prevent coughing and even help with constipation; it is also sometimes recommended to ease early pregnancy symptoms, though this is somewhat controversial. Not all authorities deem perilla safe during pregnancy.
Today, perilla seed is often sold in the form of a supplement or as oil, but can also be used raw. In East Asia, it is common for the seeds to be finely ground or crushed into a powder. Seeds can also be found as an ingredient in many herbal formulas, often combined with things like hemp seeds and apricot kernels.
In Cooking and Industry
Cooks often toast the seeds to use as a garnish, or blended into a variety of sauces and even drinks. The expelled oil also has a number of uses, including as a cooking oil or marinade.
Perilla seed oil is also used in a number of everyday products. The paint and varnish industry often uses the oil to add stability and cohesion to products, and for years the oil has been used in the manufacture of traditional inks.
Other Plant-Based Benefits
It isn’t just the seeds of the perilla that are useful. Leaves are commonly used as a spice and are known to have a sweet taste, for instance. Stems and roots also have a number of traditional medicinal properties, particularly when brewed into a sort of herbal tea.