An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘Athens Georgia’

Perilla frutescens (shiso) is a novel vegetable

Perilla frutescens var. crispa, shiso, in Crawford, GA. Notice the ruffled edges.

Perilla frutescens, a relatively new green-leafy vegetable introduced to North America from Asia and naturalizing throughout the eastern US, is popular in Asian dishes and a source of expensive omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements.

Growing in the Athens area are two variants: one is called shiso (Perilla frutescens var. crispa), which is either green or purplish-burgundy with ruffled, deeply serrated edges, and the other is egoma (Perilla frutescens var. frutescens), which has flat, green leaves with serrated edges.

When identifying either variety of Perilla, a distinguishing characteristic is in the anise-basil smell of the foliage when it’s crushed. Since Perilla’s in the mint family (Lamiaceae), it will have a square stem. Flowers rise up on four-sided stalks, resembling basil, but are taller and more pronounced. I usually find Perilla in a moist, semi-shade habitat, such as the Fred Birchmore Nature Trail in Athens.

Listing the health-promoting properties of Perilla would appear to place it in a panacea, cure-all category of potential world crops. Evidenced-based research matches the claims, which might make this a top-ten plant in usefulness.

Perilla frutescens var. frutescens, egoma, on the Fred Birchmore Trail in Athens.

Perilla’s antimutagenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities lend it to be a traditional herb for treating cancerous tumors in Asia. Research studies of Perilla leaf extract have found the herb efficacious in treating human leukemia and human hepatoma cells by increasing apoptosis-related genes and apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the cancer cells. In one study on liver cancer, scientists compared the Perilla leaf extract to rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant compound found in high quantities in Perilla, to determine whether the activity is attributed to the rosmarinic acid. The study found the whole-leaf extract of Perilla was significantly more effective than the isolated constituent—a possible argument for wholeness.

Scientific studies have also verified the efficacy of using Perilla as an antidepressant. The studies were based on a Japanese herbal remedy which uses Perilla for its effect on depression associated with chronic unpredictable stress. There’s a lot of that going around.

Oil extracted from the seeds is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, and can be an alternative to fish oil. Perilla oil has a neuroprotective and cardiovascular-protective effect, and is a possible preventative for strokes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s no need to make an alcohol tincture or water extract of Perilla because it’s an excellent, flavorful, cooked veggie, which has up to five times the carotene found in carotene-rich vegetables. Nutrition studies compared Perilla to spinach and found Perilla to be significantly higher in lutein than spinach. In addition to the carotenes, Perilla has an abundant supply of antioxidants, such as rosmarinic acid, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.

The omega-3-rich seeds of the flat-leaf Perilla can be used as a topping for salads or a spice. In Japanese cooking, the leaves of the ruffled-leaf Perilla are dredged in tempura batter and fried. The purple leaf variety is added to vinegars, pickled foods and rice to give flavor, a pinkish hue, and antimicrobial properties.

There’s no telling who is responsible for introducing Perilla to the US, but since it’s here, I’ll learn how to put it to good use.

Uncommon and inconspicuous: Passiflora lutea, or yellow passionflower, in Athens, GA

Passiflora lutea, yellow passionflower vine. Native to the U.S.

While walking my dog in Athens, I saw, rambling close to the sidewalk, the leaves of the native yellow passionflower vine, Passiflora lutea. I had never noticed it in Athens before, which made me wonder if it’s uncommon or just inconspicuous. It’s both. And it’s a coveted native plant for wildflower enthusiasts, and commercially hard to find.

Passiflora lutea’s shallowly-lobed leaves could easily be mistaken for baby kudzu, which might cause someone to yank it out of their yard, understandably so. The flower is greenish-yellow, an inch or less in size, and slightly covered by the leaves, making them difficult to notice, and perhaps to appreciate, as well. Those who notice will see a precious, intricate little flower, and long, spiraling tendrils. The leaves sometimes have subtle variegation, which is quite attractive.

Passiflora lutea, yellow passionflower vine foliage. The shallowly-lobed leaves resemble the dreaded kudzu and English ivy.

I first saw Passiflora lutea in abundance along a trail on the South Carolina side of the Chattooga River. Since then, I saw it growing at Autry Mill Park in Johns Creek, GA (formerly Alpharetta), and now I’m seeing it in Athens. In each of these places, P. lutea was growing in the shade.

I looked at the USDA Plant Database distribution map, which shows its distribution from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas east, and from Florida to Pennsylvania. These are also the states to which the plant is native, so clearly it hasn’t spread much.

Yellow passionflower is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania, while the Southern Weed Science Society considers it weedy and potentially invasive. Is this huge discrepancy a case of beauty residing in the eye of the beholder?

The University of Texas at Austin’s Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center–Native Plant Database lists yellow passionflower as a major food source for several species of butterfly larvae, including the Julia Heliconican, Mexican & Gulf fritillaries butterflies, and Zebra & Crimson-patch long-wing butterflies.

Passiflora lutea, yellow passionflower vine. The flower is named for symbolic imagery of Christ's crucifixion, called The Passion of Christ.

Medicinally, P. lutea will have some similar sedating nervine effects as Passiflora incarnata, or purple passionflower; however, it’s too uncommon to sustainably harvest. The fruits are edible, as are purple passionflower’s. If you are lucky enough to have this growing in your yard, let the fruits dry, collect the seeds, and start a P. lutea nursery.

P.S. – I’ve also now seen a small vine of P. lutea near the banks of the North Oconee River on the greenway near Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, and on a wooded trail behind the UGA Intramural Fields.

Passiflora lutea, yellow passionflower vine, hiding underneath the foliage.

Variegated foliage of Passiflora lutea, yellow passionflower vine, on trail behind Intramural Fields at UGA, Athens, GA.

A beautiful vine, Passiflora lutea.

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