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Red ooba leaves are oval with serrated edges that point toward their tip. The deep violet leaves can grow up to five to seven inches wide, though they are most often harvested at a younger, more delicate age, to prevent the plant from flowering. When the ooba plant flowers, it produces erect flowering stems that have a similar appearance to flowering purple (Thai) basil. The leaves have a mint-anise and citrus flavor and aroma that is best revealed when they are torn or crushed.
Red ooba season is in summer. Green ooba is usually year-round.
Ooba AKA shiso is an annual self-pollinating aromatic herbaceous plant and member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which contains many other herbaceous plants including basil, mint, sage and lavender. Its scientific name is perilla. Red ooba is one of two varieties of ooba. The other variety, green ooba is more common. There are hybrids of the two, which create a variegated appearance, though very limited in production.
In Japan red ooba foliage is used for food coloring. It is both the coloring and antimicrobial agent for pickled plums. Its volatile oil is extracted as a flavoring compound. Red ooba juice is also a common drink found in Japan and is promoted for its daily health maintenance benefits.
Ooba is native to East China where it is both cultivated and grows wild. It is also a traditional crop of India, Japan, Korea and Thailand. Ooba can escape cultivation and grow wild in a wide variety of warm habitats and spreads at an invasive pace. In American agriculture it is considered a poisonous weed as the plant has toxins that can be lethal to cattle and horses.