Foraging For Edible Shoots

Thirty-five years ago, Lelan Nishek started Kaua’i Nursery & Landscaping (KN&L). Since then, the one-man operation has grown into a 150-acre property with close to 80 employees, including three of Lelan’s brothers, their families and his daughter Sandy.

From anthuriums and orchids to plumerias and palms, KN&L sells hundreds of tropical plants and trees. Vegetable starts are grown from University of Hawaii seeds, which are hybrids that are disease-resistant and acclimated to Hawaii.

On May 25 at 9:05 a.m., KN&L will host a free bamboo workshop. Enter the drawing and you may win a bamboo that’s planted in a 5-gallon bucket. You will learn how to space, plant, water and feed bamboo, and how to prepare bamboo shoots. Afterward, sample Sandy’s Bamboo Curry and Liz Ito’s Bamboo Kinpira, a Japanese salad traditionally made with gobo (burdock root).

Every one of the 23 varieties of bamboo that KN&L sells is a noninvasive, clumping species. There are five varieties that produce excellent edible shoots: Bali Black, Velvet Leaf, Oldhamii, Sweet Shoot and Monastery.

KN&L bamboo varieties: Bali Black, Bush, Costa Rican Weeping, Giantochola Sp., Graceful Weaver, Hedge, Java Black, Lumpy Noodle, Malay Dwarf, Mayan Silver, Mexican Weeping, Monastery, Ohe Kahiko/Hula Bamboo, Ohe Nui/Giant Chinese, Oldhamii, Sacred Bali, South American Timber, Southeast Asian Timber, Sweet Shoot, Timor Black, Velvet Leaf, Weavers and White.


Bamboo was first found and used in China more than 2,500 years ago, and is an early foraging food. For this reason, there may be as many ways to harvest and prepare bamboo shoots as there are Chinese mothers! Homemade preparation varies greatly, but today, bamboo shoots are an essential ingredient in the dishes of China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines and Uganda.

Bamboo shoots are young canes (called culms) that are harvested for food before they are two weeks old, or 1 foot tall. Watch carefully, because shoots can grow 3 feet in one day. This is why American botanist David Fairchild said, “The best way to control bamboo is to eat it.” Most species of bamboo reach maturity in five years, and spring shoots are larger and tougher than winter shoots. All bamboo shoots are edible but must be cooked to remove the bitter flavor.

Season: On Kaua’i, bamboo shoots may be harvested from April through September, beginning in their third year.

What to look for: The best stage to harvest is one to two weeks after they appear. Shoots larger than 12 inches can be woody.

Storage: Cover cooked bamboo shoots with water in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. They also can be frozen or canned. Store whole, unpeeled shoots in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to a week.

Preparation: All bamboo shoots, except Sweet Shoot, need to be peeled and cooked before consuming. Raw bamboo shoots are bitter and hard to digest because they are toxic. Sweet Shoot needs to be peeled, but can be eaten raw. Once cooked, slice and add soy sauce or salt, butter and pepper and serve as a side dish, or add to salads, curries, soups and fried rice. Stir-fry and serve with soy sauce and rice, or marinate in soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil for several hours before using.

Ito peels bamboo shoots and soaks them for up to five days, changing water daily when it turns yellow and smells bad because of a compound called taxi-phyllin. After they have soaked, she slices them into strips and cooks until tender, changing water when it turns yellow or smells bad. Strips are done in about 20 minutes, when water is clear and has no odor.

Alternatively, place whole, unpeeled bamboo shoots in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for one hour. Cooling in the cooking water makes them easier to peel. They are done when shoots are tender enough to pierce with a toothpick.

Tip: Bamboo shoots contain cyanogenic glycosides (taxiphyllin), which is produced by more than 1,000 plant species including sorghum and cassava. Chronic cyanide poisoning has been observed in individuals whose diet includes significant amounts of cyanogenic plants.

Health benefits: One hundred grams, or just under one cup, of cooked bamboo shoots contains 11 calories, 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein. Bamboo shoots are a very good source of vitamin B6, potassium, copper and manganese. Phytochemicals in bamboo shoots include lignans and phenolic acid which have anticancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Bamboo can be found at: Kauai Nursery & Landscaping, 3-1550 Kaumualii Hwy., Lihu”e. For more information, call 245-7747 or visit On the website, you can download a free bamboo booklet that explains the varieties and uses in detail. Just click on the

Sandy’s Bamboo Curry

Tips that are sliced lengthwise into narrow strips have ribbing that holds extra sauce

“Nursery” tab then “Nursery Stock.”


Sandy uses fresh bamboo shoots in this spicy curry, which you can sample at the May 25 workshop. Once the shoots are prepared, the recipe comes together quickly. Slice the shoots lengthwise, and the ribbing helps to hold more sauce! Makes four servings.

* 1 cooked bamboo shoot, sliced
* 1 onion, sliced
* 1 red bell pepper, sliced
* 5 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 cup Mae Ploy Yellow Curry Paste (available at Kojima’s)
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
* 2 cans coconut milk
* 3 tablespoons oil, divided

Add 1 tablespoon oil to a hot pan. Add bamboo, bell peppers and onion. Sauté until crisp-tender, about two minutes; add garlic.

Cook until fragrant, remove vegetables from pan and reserve.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to pan and stir in nutmeg and curry paste.

Cook for one minute, stirring frequently. Return vegetables to the pan with one can of water (from coconut milk can). Simmer for 20 minutes. Add coconut milk to curry and simmer for no more than 15 minutes to avoid curdling. Serve over steamed rice.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit