Several bamboo species have been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of inflammatory conditions. The present study evaluates the in vitro anti-inflammatory properties of the traditionally used bamboo species Phyllostachys nigra (Lodd.) Munro and Sasa veitchii (Carr.) Rehder to explore their future research opportunities and therapeutic potential as anti-inflammatory agents. The extracts were evaluated for their potential inhibitory activity at the level of NF-κB-induced gene expression and suppression of cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 and COX-2 enzyme activities, representative pharmacological targets for the anti-inflammatory action of glucocorticoids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, respectively. The activity of P. nigra (Lodd.) Munro and S. veitchii (Carr.) Rehder was compared with bamboo species without traditional anti-inflammatory indications. High-performance liquid chromatography with diode-array detection and liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry analyses were performed to phytochemically characterize the extracts. P. nigra (Lodd.) Munro leaf extract potently inhibited NF-κB-induced gene expression, while S. veitchii (Carr.) Rehder leaf extract exerted a selective COX-2 inhibition. The crude extracts consistently showed a more potent bioactivity than the solid phase extraction fractions. P. nigra (Lodd.) Munro and S. veitchii (Carr.) Rehder both exert anti-inflammatory properties, but act via a different molecular mechanism. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.