Considered an invasive species by some, bamboo is a panda’s favorite treat. It is the king of grasses and offers significant, multi-faceted health benefits and endless practical uses. Bamboo serves us on so many levels, from supporting hair and nails, and building collagen, to rejuvenating skin and joints, to framing houses, creating furniture, and far more. Bamboo has proven itself as a resource for sustainable products and as a supreme provider.
GreenMedInfo.com cites 42 diseases and 29 pharmacological actions where bamboo exerts its powerful influence, from cardiovascular to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline or dysfunction, dementia, brain damage, and ischemia. It can also help with inflammation, a major contributor to countless diseases. It also helps with various types of cancers and chemotherapy-induced toxicity, as well as diabetes and its complications. It has beneficial impacts on blood sugar, immune system regulation, HIV, and Cytomegalovirus infections.
When you consider the more basic effects bamboo has on asthma, atopic dermatitis, anxiety, and depression, it makes me wonder why this isn’t in everyone’s cup. Toss it in along with whatever else you’re steeping for some real health insurance.
Recorded as being consumed by the Chinese during the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644) and found mentioned in a note from the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907), bamboo is one of the most useful plants on the planet. The tallest member of the grass family, bamboo is from the Bambusoideae subfamily. Taxonomically, there are 1,641 bamboo species, 120 genera, and three tribes from this subfamily.
Bamboo is characterized by its strong but flexible upright growth. It can reach astounding heights for a plant considered grass and can grow several feet per day. Over a longer stretch, that growth may vary, but a single cane can grow to 25 feet in 25 days.
Bamboo spreads vigorously, taking territory vertically as well as horizontally. The weight of heavy, wet snow merely displays its incredible flexibility as it bends nearly flat only to spring up tall again once the snow melts.
While many people will be unaware of bamboo’s nutraceutical value, they will likely know that it can be used to make natural and sustainable flooring, plywood, any number of “wood” products and even fabrics that can be used for clothing, bedding, and more. More uses are being found for this green gift all the time. My Philippine friend tells me the soil around the bamboo is the best for potting soil.
Eating and Drinking Bamboo
Why drink plain water when you can turn it into a herbal pharmacy in a cup? Bamboo leaves make an herbal decoction that tastes great—like an earthy green tea—and can easily become your daily health-habit ritual either taken alone or mixed with other herbal teas such as jasmine and mint in creative, exotic blends.
Use the usual ratio of one teaspoon of dried leaves to a cup of pure water, steeping it for 5 to 10 minutes. If you have a structured water filter, it will pull the nutrition out without you even having to heat the water. The addition of monk fruit, stevia, raw honey, or lemon enhances the flavor of this delicate tea.
However, some bamboo has been found to be adulterated with plants of the carnation family often used in Chinese medicine, which are potentially dangerous to pregnant women. Pregnant mothers are advised to avoid it as consumption could induce abortion. Fertile and pregnant women should, therefore, consult a health care provider prior to including bamboo in their diet.
Young bamboo shoots, harvested within two weeks after emerging and under a foot tall, are a staple in Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Nepal, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, and of course, China. Boiled to just crisp-tender, these highly versatile shoots take on other flavors. They are available at Asian markets canned or fresh.
Bamboo shoots are a healthy addition to any meal, flavored with seasoning, butter, or ghee, or used in a stir fry with proteins, vegetables, and sauce, or added to soups and salads. In Indonesia and the Philippines, bamboo shoots are made into a type of spring roll called Lumpia. Bamboo-shoot recipes abound on internet sites for both vegan and meat-based versions.
On my own land, a few gallon pots of bamboo planted several years ago have now morphed into a veritable forest both in height and in terrain covered. For this reason, many gardeners contain bamboo plants in a concrete trench or other boundaries.
Because of its high glass-like silica content, cutting bamboo cane isn’t easy but anyone can easily harvest its leaves. My fresh, organic leaves harvested this morning are dehydrating to use in tea, tea that costs approximately $6.55 per ounce in stores.
Last year, I was excited about horsetail, which we can wildcraft here, wanting the strong fingernails and beautiful hair that natural silicon imparts. But when I found out that bamboo leaf tea has ten times the silica that horsetail extract has, deciding to jumpstart the process was logical. Horsetail averages 5 to 8 percent organic silica. Bamboo leaf contains an amazing 70 percent organic silica.
Amazingly, this innocuous, ancient plant is a powerhouse of amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, soluble fiber, and carbohydrates. Medicinally, bamboo is cooling and calming. In addition to the uses listed above is it also good for digestion, obesity, lung, chest, stomach, heart, and urinary dysfunction.
It is also detoxifying and can quell inflammation. Bamboo leaves and shoots are important for male fertility, influencing thyroid hormones, balancing blood sugar levels, and they are a powerful antioxidant that can reduce cellular damage. Bamboo is good for bone and dental health and promotes general overall wellness. It is antibacterial and helps in asthma cases, too.
Lignins are a complex organic polymer deposited in the cell walls of many plants, including bamboo, making them rigid and woody. Lig-8, a lignophenol derivative from bamboo lignin, is a highly potent neuroprotectant protecting against apoptosis, a form of self-induced cell death.
Bamboo lignins can protect retinal ganglion cells. These cells die when a person develops glaucoma, leading to a loss of eyesight. The authors of a 2007 study that found “apoptotic cell death is associated with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer, Parkinson, or Huntington disease as well as glaucoma” and pointed to the potential benefits of lig-8, saying the substance could offer new approaches to treating neurodegenerative disorders.
With bamboo’s many benefits, you may want to find ways to include bamboo leaves and shoots in your diet. As with any natural substance, add the factor of time, typically a few months, in order to register benefits.
But beneath the surface, and likely beneath your notice, the king of grasses could restore your health on the cellular level—and with a great deal of pleasure in the process. Processing the bamboo leaf by dehydration doesn’t take long at all, which means you could go from harvest to cup quicker than you might think.
Here’s to inexpensive, sustainable health in a cup!
Kat Carroll is a nutritional therapy practitioner, executive director of the National Health Federation, and managing editor of the National Health Federation’s magazine, Health Freedom News, and is on the Board of Directors of the National Health Federation Canada and the Advisory Board for GreenMedInfo. This article was first published on the National Health Federation website, www.theNHF.com