Bamboo & its By-Products

Bamboo is a beautiful, perennial evergreen plant that surprisingly is a member of the grass family; giant bamboo is the largest example of all the grasses. It is also considered the fastest growing plant in the world; fully mature adult plants can grow in 3-5 years. The stalks, called culms, are very high in cellulose and silica, giving it great strength. A grove of bamboo will take in and hold a high level of carbon dioxide, and can produce up to 35% more oxygen than trees, so it is definitely a valuable asset in green ecology. It is also readily renewable and self-regenerating after harvest; like other grasses, it doesn’t require replanting. Bamboo also helps prevent soil erosion by its ability to hold in rain runoff, and improves soil by pulling nutrients to the top of the surface; its high level of nitrogen fixation is also benefits soil. Bamboo is an attractive addition in landscaping and gardens, and it will protect stream banks. Its ability to stabilize soil lends it to agricultural borders. Since it reestablishes itself after cutting, its valuable function in erosion control is perennial.


Bamboo has traditionally played a major role in all aspects of life in Asia. The largest bamboo forests in the world are in China; second is India. It is a versatile resource, having thousands of uses. With the right conditions, it is easily cultivated on-site. It has two broad growing types: the slower growing clumping and the faster growing and quickly spreading running types. It is the running types especially that need sufficient boundaries to keep them in check.


As building material, bamboo is strong (said to be stronger than steel, in fact), lightweight, durable, and has flexibility. It can therefore be used in building roads and bridges. Anywhere in construction that wood is used for, bamboo can substitute; and it is cheaper than wood. Many architects have favored bamboo over wood for just that reason in the building of interior scaffolding of high rises, huge auditoriums, and other structures. Bamboo houses are home to over one billion people today. In Asia, for centuries, temple figures of all kinds were crafted in bamboo. Just a few of its other uses are: building and fence posts, beams, particle boards, mat boards, flooring and molding, furniture, countertops, cabinets, doors, bicycle frames, skateboards, surfboards, and snowboards. It can be made into baseball bats and fishing poles. Wall surface panels and bamboo curtains are well known, as are bamboo fences. In crafts, bamboo can be shaped into jewelry and musical instruments, such as flutes, into cutting boards, chopsticks, cups, spoons, ladles, tea strainers, and trays. It can be used to make display stands, booths, and banners.


The fibers of bamboo can be broken down and woven with or without cotton into textiles for a wide variety of clothes, and also including diapers, blankets, towels, sheets, and pillows. Its pulp can be used in paper production, from newsprint and bond paper, to cardboard, toilet paper, and coffee filters. In the bioenergy industry, bamboo can be used as firewood, charcoal, briquettes, and pressed into fuel logs. Bamboo sticks and charcoal are used for making incense.


As food, bamboo shoots can be made into a wide variety of dishes. Asian soups use them abundantly; they can also be put into salads and cooked vegetables. Bamboo readily picks up the various flavors of any dish. Bamboo rice is short-grain white rice that has been infused with fresh bamboo juice, giving it a pleasant, pale green color. Steamed bamboo pieces with coconut cream in rice is a favorite in Thailand. Fermented shoots are used in many Chinese dishes.


Bamboo has also been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Bamboo shavings, its sap, both liquid and dried, and its leaves, all have medicinal value.