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LeBeau Bamboo Nursery      Medford, Oregon 541-499-4992

Bamboo as a Vegetable - Harvesting Edible Bamboo Shoots

Posted on June 15th, 2015 by LeBeau Bamboo Nursery in Bamboo Care and Maintenance

Bamboo Shoots

Phyllostachys vivax shoot which is ready to harvest
A Phyllostachys vivax shoot which is ready to harvest.
Not only does bamboo make an excellent hedge or specimen plant, but it also produces potentially large volumes of delicious edible shoots each season. Shoots are the young canes as they first emerge from the ground, before growing into their maximum height (whether it is a ten foot hedge species or a one hundred foot timber species) within the next month. Asparagus has a similar growth pattern, with new shoots forming from the base of the existing plant and being harvested as a vegetable. In bamboo, a new shoot is essentially a collection of all the future nodes without any space between them. As the shoot grows, the cane between each node grows and expands to form a complete cane.

Harvesting Bamboo Shoots

Shoots are easy to harvest, but the timing of harvest is important. They taste the best when they are very young, as the quality quickly starts to decrease as the shoots grow and solidify. For most temperate species, the shoots are at their peak when they are less than six inches in height. Anything taller and they will probably start to get bitter. There are two ways to harvest the shoots, depending on what will be done with them. If the shoots will be used within a few days, they can be cut off at ground level (personally, I pull while twisting slightly to break them off below ground to salvage more of the edible portion). If the shoots will be stored for more than a few days or will be sold, they should have the shoot base attached to help prevent the shoots from drying out or rotting after harvest. This method usually involves digging, and there are a few specialized tools to do this with.

Selecting the best shoots to harvest has two components - you want to collect shoots that will be good to eat, but you also want to harvest shoots in a way that increases the health of the grove. You want to leave enough shoots to grow into mature canes that the plant remains healthy and actively growing - remember that the old canes on most species only live for about seven years so they will need to be replaced with the new growth. Generally, around one third to one half of the shoots can be harvested each year for most bamboo varieties, especially if you harvest the smaller shoots and leave the larger ones. Luckily, most bamboo groves produce large quantities of extra shoots that will not grow and by mid summer will wither and die (these are referred to as ďabortedĒ shoots). These tend to be the smaller and later shoots, which are produced so they can grow on into new canes in the event that the earlier shoots are damaged. On our large running groves, we have found that the aborted shoots usually amount to about 25% of all shoots produced, so harvesting about a fourth of the shoots each season would be the same as letting those shoots abort on their own. In that sense, even if you are trying to rapidly size up your grove, harvesting the smallest 25% of shoots would make no difference in the growth rate of the bamboo.

Harvested Phyllostachys vivax shoots
Harvested Phyllostachys vivax shoots.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing which shoots to harvest is leaving the bamboo to grow in areas you want it, and removing the shoots in areas you donít want it. At our nursery we have trained several bamboos into narrow hedges by leaving all the shoots in the strip where we want the bamboo to grow, and harvesting all of the shoots that grow in any other direction. For us this has been a very effective method of controlling runners, although you should take note that this only works in large open areas where the bamboo canít eventually get past your harvest area. Even though you are harvesting the shoots above ground, the underground rhizome network is still in tact and will continue to grow each season.

Harvesting Season

Each bamboo species has a different shooting season, and each bamboo grove will have a slightly different season depending on the climate (in sun or in shade, weather patterns, soil moisture, etc.). After shoots begin to emerge and harvesting begins, each plant usually will only produce shoots for a couple of weeks. Mixing multiple species together can significantly increase the harvest season, as some species are very early and others are very late. Phyllostachys aureosulcata and varieties are the earliest to shoot in our nursery, with shoots emerging in April. Phyllostachys nigra and varieties produce shoots in early May, while Phyllostachys vivax and varieties produce shoots in late May or early June. Phyllostachys bambusoides and varieties produce shoots in late June and into July.

Storing Harvested Shoots

We wrap or layer our harvested shoots with slightly damp paper towels and put them in a paper bag or cardboard box in the fridge (be sure to let them breathe, as plastic bags will cause them to start browning). When ready to use the shoots, it is often best to cut the bottom half inch of the shoot away to ensure the whole shoot is fresh.

Preparing Shoots

One of the best ways to prepare shoots is to cut them in half, and then remove the hard outer sheaths. Sheaths that are white and soft are great for eating, just like the inner leaves of an artichoke (without the tiny spikes of course!). Pulling back on the sheaths will break them away from the shoot easily, usually leaving the soft edible portions of the sheaths behind. After cutting the shoot halves in half again, they can be diced into small pieces or left in long strips (canned shoots are often in long strips, but for many dishes the diced pieces mix in better). Although not necessary, boiling the shoot pieces for ten minutes will greatly soften the texture and remove bitterness from shoots which were harvested a little too late. The boiled pieces can then be added straight to a meal, or pan fried. Traditionally, shoots are usually cooked in a wok.
Shoots sliced in half
Shoots sliced in half.
Outer sheaths peeled away
Outer sheaths peeled away.
Shoots sliced into eighths
Shoots sliced into eighths.

Species to Harvest

Some bamboo species are better for shoot harvesting than others. Generally, the rule is that species with very strong canes tend to produce tougher and more bitter shoots (makes sense), while weaker caned species produce softer and less bitter shoots. The tougher species need to be harvested much earlier than the softer species, which can often be harvested fairly large (weíve harvested P. vivax shoots a foot tall and about three inches wide that still tasted delicious, while Henon shoots at that size would have been almost impossible to eat).

The species we have found to produce the best shoots are:
Phyllostachys aureosulcata and varieties
Phyllostachys flexuosa
Phyllostachys edulis

Phyllostachys vivax and varieties
Phyllostachys decora

Phyllostachys bambusoides and varieties
Semiarundinaria fastuosa

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