‘With bamboo, Earth Day is everyday; it consumes pollution, creates oxygen & supplies renewable resources.’ – James Clever, President of American Bamboo Society.
One of the renewable resources of bamboo is the edible bamboo shoots that sprout from the rhizome. Actually, pandas had discovered the goodness of bamboo leaves and shoots in their diet centuries before the human race did.
Bamboo (Bambusa spp.
) belongs to the grass family and it is in fact the tallest grass known to man. The versatility of this grass is tremendous as it has unimaginable number of uses – right from making furniture, chopsticks, sleeping mats, blinds, boat masts, baskets, fishing poles, cooking utensils to being used as food, especially in the Asian cuisine.
After April rains you find bamboo shoots sprouting from the main bamboo. These are eaten as food and should be cut before they grow a foot tall. There are winter shoots too which are tastier in comparison, but difficult to procure. Bamboos abound in Asia and Indonesia where bamboo shoots are a traditional vegetable and a delicacy; it is fast gaining popularity in other regions as well.
The empty hollows found in larger bamboo stalks are used to cook rice and soups which enhances food with a subtle and distinctive flavor.
Bamboo shoots not only add variety and flavor to a dish, there are many health benefits as well.
Bamboo shoots are very low in calories and rich in edible fiber – one cup of tender sliced shoots provides 13 calories. When obese individuals are given 50 to 100g of bamboo shoots per day for 10 days they show a significant loss in weight.
Because of their high dietary fiber content, even stubborn constipation can be cured. It also helps in good digestion and boosting the immune system.
Bamboo shoots are rich in potassium. They keep cholesterol levels in check as well as prevent colon cancer. Potassium is also good for lowering and maintaining blood pressure.
They are a good source of lignans and other antioxidants which have anti-cancer, anti- bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Cooking methods also determine the nutrient components and antioxidant capacities of bamboo shoot. According to a Chinese study, 'stir-frying could increase antioxidant capacities of bamboo shoots and could obtain the maximum retention of antioxidant capacities'.
Besides being a good source of selenium, bamboo shoots have 17 amino acids and plenty of minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium (very high in sodium content), copper, manganese, selenium and iron.
Juice of tender bamboo shoots is used to clear maggot infested wounds, sores and ulcers.
Syrup made with bamboo juice and palm jaggery is used to induce abortion in early pregnancy, initiate labor pains when delivery is overdue (called the uterotonic properties) and also to clear out placenta after childbirth. An Austrian study published in the journal Planta Medica, the researchers found that bamboo is one of the uterotonic plants.
Bamboo shoots are good for respiratory problems, menstrual disorders and threadworms.
Bamboo leaves are rich in hydrocyanic and benzoic acid. A decoction made with tender leaves is used to treat diarrhea.
The outer leaves or the sheath of bamboo shoots has to be peeled and the inner cream colored and tender portion is used as food ingredient. The shoot is sliced thinly.
The shoot is first soaked in water for a few hours, and then boiled without covering so those compounds that cause bitterness dissipate into air. Drain out water and boil again in fresh water for 5 minutes. The bamboo shoots are ready to use in soups, salads and stir fries and can also be stored in the fridge.
Next time you see a bamboo grass growing, look for tender shoots keeping in mind the health benefits of this hardy plant.