Eat Bamboo Like a Panda: Sustainable Produce From Your Backyard

It’s nearly impossible to hang around foodies these days without hearing the words organic, sustainable, or some form of the word local (locally sourced, buying local, locavore). Well, today I’m going to propose a new type of backyard crop that’s all of these things – you might even have some in your backyard already.

Most people know that bamboo grows like a weed in hot climates like the ones found in Texas, so there’s no need for fertilizers or pesticides to get it to grow (containing it might be another issue). What many people don’t know however, is that bamboo is an excellent and delicious food source.

While we can’t eat bamboo straight-up like pandas do, billions of people around the world (mostly outside of the United States) find boiled, freshly sprouted bamboo shoots to be delicious (see the recipe at the end of this post).

Bamboo is an invasive species in America that displaces native plants here – mainly because it thrives in hot climates, like the ones found in Texas and Atlanta (where my parents live). Most in America view bamboo as a nuisance, but my parents, who love to eat bamboo shoots, saw the bamboo growing in their backyard as a culinary opportunity instead of a problem.

Only new bamboo shoots are edible (the stalks are far too tough) and you must harvest the new growth immediately after they “shoot” out of the ground (which is usually at the crack of dawn). If you let the shoots grow out for even two days, the tender insides will become too hard and inedible.

The harvest season starts around March, and lasts a month or two. My parents said they know it’s bamboo time when rabbits and deer suddenly appear in the backyard, because they love fresh bamboo as well. You may think that this isn’t really a viable food source, but last year my parents collected about 100 pounds of bamboo during the season, making them very popular among their Asian friends.

Bamboo shoot removal is best done using a shovel. The shoots should be cut then boiled quickly to stop the hardening process. After that, the shoots can be cut into chunks and frozen – they will keep for many months.

No worries if you don’t happen to have a bamboo forest in your backyard – you can buy pre-sliced and pre boiled bamboo from your local Asian supermarket. The MT Supermarket in Austin has it in the back right corner of the store (near the dairy and vegetables, close to the seafood). If you are hungry now from reading about edible bamboo, here is the recipe as promised:

Chinese Bamboo Shoots with Pork Recipe

Half pound pork loin
3 cups of boiled fresh bamboo shoot (best choice) or canned bamboo shoot or vacuum sealed bamboo shoot (product of Taiwan, called 台灣沙拉筍, found in Asian supermarkets in the vegetable section)
cooking oil (2 table spoons)
sesame oil (1 tea spoon)
chili sauce (1/4 teaspoon)
Panda Brand oyster flavored sauce (1 table spoon)
Chicken broth (1/4 cup)
garlic (2 cloves)

1. Cut bamboo shoot into strips (along the grain); cut pork into strips as well;
2. Chop garlic
3. Heat the cooking oil and sauté garlic first , then drop pork into pan and sauté until it is done
4. Next, drop in the bamboo strips and chicken broth, then stir fry
for 4-5 minutes
5. Add oyster sauce, chili oil, sesame oil and dash salt to taste. Keep stir frying for 2-3 minutes until the liquid in the pan is absorbed by the bamboo shoots.

Measurements of each ingredient are based on how many bamboo shoot strips you have. Make your own judgments to fit your taste.

*** For those of you who don’t feel like growing your own bamboo – Madam Mam’s has an excellent SPICY bamboo dish called Pad Ped Nor Mai (P32 on the menu).

Photo from the Wikipedia Commons of young shoots emerging from some rather large bamboo plants

This post was written to get people thinking about a different way to view a common plant in the US as a new food source instead of being a definitive how to guide. Also, I’m pretty sure many have been eating bamboo shoots without knowing what the heck they actually are 🙂

The bamboo in my parents’ backyard has been there for years, so it is pretty big (with shoots probably 3-5 inches in diameter and at least 100 stalks in our 1/2 acre piece of land) so your results may vary in the amount of edible product you get each season.

I see lots of of bamboo growing all around Austin near Zilker Park (along the lake and in the Botanical Garden). Green Pastures has a very long bamboo wall that could probably produce edible shoots each year (but they probably have anti root growth barriers preventing it from doing so). I think the species of bamboo common in Austin doesn’t really get really big, so it might not be practical for farming. Does anyone else know of anyone that grows bamboo to eat?

Thanks for reading and if you want to learn about growing more traditional fare in your backyard, check out to learn more about this subject.

Happy Growing and Tasting,

12 thoughts on “Eat Bamboo Like a Panda: Sustainable Produce From Your Backyard”

  1. I have lots of bamboo in my yard in various types and sizes. Some of my bamboo is around 3-4″ wide. Also, all of my plants are of the clumping type rather than the running type. They don’t send out rhizomes, so they’re non-invasive. I’d love to try harvesting it!

  2. So this is what you and Lisa were talking about. You know, it does look familiar. I suspect I’ve unwittingly eaten bamboo shoots before. Now I’m curious to try them again. I’ll stick with MT’s shoots though, since I don’t exactly have a green thumb. Nice to meet you last night!

  3. Thanks so much! This is so amazing to know. Please put more on how your parents prepare the cut bamboo! Lots of sunshine.

  4. They cut the bamboo with a shovel usually – aim below the soil and at a 45 degree angle, then step on the shovel. You can kind of see this in action in the picture of my mom’s shoe. She’s standing on the back of the shovel head.

    I’m pretty sure any kind of bamboo is fine to eat – I think they are all invasive species, as bamboo is not native to the US.

    1. Thanks for the reply. I did some research and there is a kind of bamboo that grows in groups and a kind that will grow invasively and I have some of this kind around my house that I use for hunting arrows but would have never thought it could be eaten.

    2. Interesting post and nice to hear what is going on in Austin. Thank you. I lived there for seven years.

      I grow about ten species of running and clumping bamboo in Tallahassee. Most of them are quite good especially Phyllostachys vivax, P. nigra ‘Henon’, and P. edulis. Temple bamboo is also good, but black bamboo is a little bitter. However, I have not gone to the trouble to boil it in two changes of water as is sometimes recommended. Most benefit from boiling to neutralize the cyanogenic glycosides found in all most all bamboos to some degree, though some seem to have almost none (P. vivax for example).

      There is actually one species of bamboo native to the Southeast US that once covered millions of acres but now has been reduced to just 2% of its former range. There are also many many more species native to Latin America. Mexican weeping bamboo is perhaps the best known of these and would likely grow well in Austin.

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