Beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is a cultigen of Perilla frutescens native to China and India, particularly in the mountainous regions of these two countries. Today, this perennial plant which can be cultivated as an annual is grown worldwide. The use of beefsteak plants is common in East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines.
This plant is known by different names – the Chinese call this plant zǐsū which means purple perilla, a reference to the color of the foliage. They also call it huíhuísū. Koreans also have two names for this plant – ggaetnip and soyeop. In Japan, this is called shiso while the Vietnamese call this plant tía tô. Its other names include perilla mint, Chinese basil, wild basil, wild coleus, summer coleus, purple mint, and rattlesnake weed.
Ancient Chinese have cultivated beefsteak plants and it was mentioned in 500 AD writings, as a plant then known as su. It is around the eighth or ninth centuries that the plant was introduced in Japan, and it was not until 1855 that the beefsteak plant was introduced in England. It was brought to the United States in the 1860s.
A beefsteak plant can grow to as high as 39 inches tall, decorated with broad, ovate leaves with serrated margins. This is considered today as a weed and invasive species.
Species: P. frutescens
Trinomial Name: Perilla frutescens var. crispa
Beefsteak Plant Trivia
- Beefsteak plant is known in the Ozarks as rattlesnake weed because if you step on dried beefsteak plant, it makes a sound similar to the rattlesnake.
- Check where your cattle is grazing because dried beefsteak plants are considered toxic for cattle.
- Beefsteak plants with purple foliage are used for extracting oil used as a natural pigment.
- The oil from beefsteak plants is distilled and was used in candies and toothpaste. It has been since replaced with a synthetic variety.