Closely related to ginger, galangal is widely used as a cooking spice and healing herb in Southeast Asia. This 6-foot-tall perennial bears attractive pale green orchidlike blooms and red fruits. Its thick, fragrant rhizome — the part most often used for cooking and healing — is smaller and lighter in color than ginger’s. During the Middle Ages, galangal was believed to have aphrodisiac properties.
Common Names: Blue Ginger, Galangal, Greater Galangal, Thai Ginger
Description: Grows up to 6 feet tall with 20-inch lanceolate leaves; 3- to 4-foot racemes bear pale green, orchidlike blooms and red fruit; rhizomes can have a pink hue
Hardiness: To Zone 9
Flowering: May to August on larger stems
Parts Used: Rhizome
Range/Habitat: Southeast Asia
Galangal blends well with lemongrass, garlic, and chile peppers. Use it to flavor curries, soups, stews, vegetables, and fish, but start with small amounts — its flavor is intense.
While several different plants are known as galangal, greater galangal (Alpinia galanga), which is native to South Asia and Indonesia, is the type used most often in cooking. Galangal has a warm flavor similar to ginger but with notes of black pepper and pine. It is commonly used in Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai dishes and is an essential ingredient of nasi goring, a traditional fried rice dish.
A stimulant and carminative (an agent that helps dispel intestinal gas), galangal is used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine to treat nausea and digestive problems. Ayurvedic practitioners use the rhizomes to treat arthritis and inflammation of the mucous membranes. Galangal oil is considered an antispasmodic and is suggested for treating respiratory conditions such as asthma. An extract of the rhizome is sometimes used to treat impotence. Galangal can be taken as a tea, extract, or capsule. It can also be applied externally as a poultice.
How to grow it
In Zone 8 and colder, grow this tropical plant in a warm greenhouse in rich, well-drained soil and partial shade. Galangal thrives on humidity; mist it often. Begin harvesting rhizomes for fresh use in late summer of the plant’s fourth year. Or clean the rhizome of its roots, slice it thickly, and dry it for future use. Reconstitute the dried root in water before using it in recipes.