Spring greens: bamboo shoots.

bambooshoots.JPGThis month’s herbal blog party theme is “Spring Greens,” hosted by Darcey.

This spring I happen to be living next to a massive bamboo windbreak. Now, this is not something I would have planted myself — bamboo is overwhelmingly invasive and pretty much impossible to control — but since it’s established here, we’re doing our best to control it by eating the shoots!

These bamboo shoots are not like the ones you find in cans at the store. First of all, they have a lovely fresh, almost pea-like flavor. They’re also hollow in the center — you slice them into pretty little circles.

To harvest fresh bamboo shoots, just break them off at the ground when they’re about a foot tall. Peel off the tough skin, and slice. Most recipes call for soaking overnight or parboiling to remove bitterness and potential toxins, though our bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is not bitter at all.

We’ve loved ours in miso soup and in stir-fries, and I’ve been pickling them too.

Yesterday I made a half-gallon of spicy Indian-style bamboo pickle. It’s hot and tart and crunchy — wonderful with flatbread or papadums.

Now, I didn’t really measure anything, but this is the basic gist of what I did:

Harvest, slice, and parboil bamboo shoots. Drain.

Saute a bunch of whole or almost-whole (if they’re big) garlic cloves in a good amount of oil. (Mustard oil is traditional, but you could use a neutral liquid oil like sunflower oil or non-roasted sesame oil if you need to.)

Add a whole lot of hot pepper, a bunch of mustard, some black pepper, a bit of asafoetida, plenty of salt, and other spices to taste. (I used some cinnamon, cumin, and fenugreek.)

Add the bamboo shoots, some sliced lemon, and enough lemon juice to make it nice and sour. (The liquid surrounding the bamboo shoots should be thick, but not too stiff. Cook it down or add more oil, lemon juice, or water if you need to. It should be pretty oily.)

Taste. Adjust the spices and the texture. (Keep in mind that the flavors will mellow as the pickle sits.)


Let it sit at least overnight.



The pickle will keep in the fridge for a long time if you make sure there’s always a film of oil covering the top.

If you want to can your pickle, you should probably use a pressure canner — I’m not sure it’s acidic enough for a water bath.

Next: The nature of bamboo, and a very different pickle.


  1. tammy said,

    May 15, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    Very cool. I was always wondering how to make indian-style pickles.
    By the way, do you have any thoughts about how herbalists living in major urban centers can access fresh herbs in the way you do?

  2. crabappleherbs said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    Thanks, Tammy.

    Well, if I was living in a major city, I would probably scout out all the little-used parks, backyards and abandoned lots for wild plants (keeping in mind contamination levels, of course).

    I’d also try to make friends with farmers at the farmers’ markets who might be able to bring me herbs. If you find the right person, you could have them bring you baskets of weeds.

  3. Michelle P said,

    July 4, 2008 @ 8:44 am

    Is there any variety of bamboo that is not edible?
    We just transplanted some this spring that college girl brought home from
    a creek bed in her college town. It is shooting now.
    I do not know the variety…have to research that.
    We don’t have enough to make pickles & I wouldn’t collect shoots from
    the original patch as it is close to a heavy traveled roadway.
    the pickled bamboo shoot recipe sure sounds tasty.

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

    Hi Michelle.

    I am by no means I bamboo expert, but as far as I understand it, most varieties of bamboo are edible, if you boil them in a couple of changes of water — until there’s no more bitterness. I have seen specific warnings about giant bamboo having toxins in its shoots, but I think boiling in several changes of water gets rid of these.

    (Our bamboo is “yellow groove” bamboo, and the shoots are not bitter at all.)

  5. DaveM said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

    I grew up in India eating pickled bamboos, it’s nice to see people enjoying them here in the US. 🙂

    The recipe looks pretty good. It’s really important to use mustard oil – neutral oils such as canola just won’t taste the same. Also, I’d add a bit of powdered turmeric and some onion seed (kalonji in Hindi).

    And let it sit for at least a week in the refrigerator, it really gets much better as it ages.

  6. Henriette said,

    July 3, 2009 @ 2:24 am

    Dave: that “onion seed” is black cumin, the seed of Nigella sativa (not a cumin either …)

  7. DaveM said,

    July 13, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

    Thanks for the correction, Henriette. I did indeed mean Nigella sativa, which I didn’t realize was also known as “black cumin”.

    I guess the mistake I made was in literally translating “black cumin” into Hindi, which would be “kala jeera”, which is a different spice, not onion seed.

    Kala jeera in north India refers to the seeds of Bunium persicum, not Nigella sativa, while onion seed (which you correctly identify as Nigella sativa) refers to kalonji.

    After reading through the entries for Nigella sativa and Bunium persicum, I realize that “black cumin” is used for both seeds. It seems that specially in Bengal, “kala jeera” refers to Nigella sativa, whereas in North India, “kala jeera” refers to Bunium persicum. In North India, Nigella sativa would be “kalonji”.

    You can see this from these pictures here:

    Bunium persicum according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunium_persicum

    Looks the same as “black cumin” or “kala jeera” sold by Indian groceries, for example here: http://www.indianblend.com/site/664954/product/SP-68a

    Compare this to:

    Nigella sativa on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nigella_Sativa_Seed.jpg

    Looks the same as “kalonji” sold at an Indian grocery: http://www.indianblend.com/site/664954/product/SP-38

  8. Serena said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

    Yum, I love bamboo shoots. When I lived in China I went bamboo shoot hunting in the forests with the local farmers- there’s definately a skill to finding them hiding amongst the fallen leaves! The local specialty where I lived was dried salted bamboo shoot…my mouth waters thinking of it.

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    The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Spring greens: bamboo shoots.

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