More and more there is a fight, a battle, a war against bamboo. Communities are banning bamboos from the urban landscape, and hiring bamboo monitors to patrol yards searching out these unruly subjects and forcing their homeowners to get rid of the plants. While I agree that bamboos creeping across neighborhoods can be destructive and costly perhaps there is another way to view these tenacious grasses and benefit from there ability to thrive.
What if the homeowner could eat the bamboo shoots in meals or donate unwanted shoots to a food shelter. Bamboos have wonderful shoots some of which can be eaten raw. Most people don’t even know that they can eat these plants. Psuedosasa japonica or Arrow bamboo is one of my favorites for tea and is used in the New Year’s Japanese celebration. It has big leaves so it’s easy to pick. It can also be used in preserving meats or seasoning soups. Pets also benefit from bamboo. The high silica content supports a healthy coat and aids in healing arthritis and joints issues. Maybe the bamboo is trying to get into the kitchen where it can be used as a healthy additive to soups, salads, or stir frys. (see www.bambooleaftea.net for more information on the benefits of bamboo)
What if the landscaper knew that he or she could use the bamboo to feed other plants. Bamboo leaves make a great compost tea and can be used as mulch. They add silica and other minerals back into the soil and this increases other plants ability to resist fungal and insect attacks. It strengthens the plant structure and forms a gelatinous layer at the surface which creates a barrier that is challenging for insects to penetrate. Silica also has been shown in Florida orange groves to improve the drought resistance of plants. Chipping unwanted bamboo culms, leaves, and roots is a great way to amend soils. Bamboo is a heavy feeder and is very good at utilizing minerals, even better then other grasses. This creates a mineral bank that can be added back into the land. Silica alone has been shown to bind minerals making it easier for other plants to access otherwise unavailable nutrients.
What if the farmer knew that adding bamboo close to crops that required pollination would help support the local bee population. Bees love bamboos and use sap that comes from the internodes to build hives. On my farm the bee population is growing annually and in the past 3 years our bumble bee population has gone from almost nothing to significant numbers. Bamboos support healthy ecosystems by providing habitat for birds and other animals as well. They can also be used as green barriers that reduce harmful run off of excess fertilizers or manure. Bamboos also make great forage and with a protein content around 12% they are a great winter feed.
What if the community knew that if they put all of their bamboo together they might be able to form a co-op that received carbon credits. Perhaps everyone could have a bamboo plant and those plants collectively cleaned the air and could be harvested and used for bio-mass that off set part of their community carbon footprint or maybe their utilities. Green communities could be founded upon a collective system of planting that generated bio-mass that could be used in a number of ways. Bamboos could be encouraged and harvesting could be structured into the city recycling program that ran a co-op for processing bio-mass. Bamboo plants could be required on new construction as a part of the green community.
What if the department of transportation knew that planting bamboos along roads could filter the carbon monoxide from cars and reduce the amount of asthma. Studies have shown that breathing related illnesses increase the closer a child lives to a freeway. Bamboos could act as a filter between apartments and highways. Also if a car runs off the road or has an accident and hits a tree that can be fatal but if it hits a bamboo the bamboo creates a barrier which stops the forward motion over a larger area thus cushioning the effect.
What if the non-profit organization that teaches people about sustainable agriculture knew that adding in bamboo to their program could create a resource for building homes as well as food for the animals and medicine for the people. Charcoal made from bamboo has so many uses. It can clean water and heal open sores. It can relieve digestive distress and amend soils for planting crops. Teaching people to use bamboo can provide jobs through manufacturing of furniture, clothing, housing, transportation, ect. Bamboo grows in almost every climate. It does not have to be killed to be utilized and it can continue to provide for a household or a community over many decades. It can protect structures from severe weather by literally holding structures in place. In parts of Asia it is said go into the bamboo and hold on in the case of a tornado. The bamboo will still be there when it passes.
What if the government knew that bamboo could potentially be used to clean up toxic sites. Bamboo is a fast grower and pulls minerals from the ground. The leaves form a layer on the ground that is a perfect environment for mycellium to grow. Mycellium have been of great interest in their ability to pull nutrients and water from the ground and make them more bio-available to plants. The combination of bamboo and mycellium could be a powerful tool in cleaning up abused land and making it useful again. Toxins are everywhere and while we wouldn’t want to eat bamboo that was fed a diet of heavy metals we could use it as bio-mass.
These are a few ideas but I know there are many others. I believe that we live in a time where we need to focus more on solutions, and I believe that bamboo can be a part of that process. I am not an advocate of mono cultures but believe in bamboos place as a tool in the permaculture landscape. Let’s find ways to work together with our environment and heal some of the damage we have created.