Galangal – Alpinia galanga – Ginger’s Hot, Peppery Cousin

I “discovered” fresh galangal (and fresh turmeric as well) when I found the rhizomes for sale at a local Asian food store (also see my earlier post on turmeric here).

I planted the rhizomes in potting soil, in 12″ tall plastic pots in late spring. Most of the galangal sprouted, even though they had been cut into small pieces when I bought them. Good thing that the growing buds on the rhizomes were still intact.

I harvested the potted galangal plants later that fall. The rhizomes were a bit small but my purpose was to replant them in the garden the following spring, where their roots would have more space to grow. Prior to planting I enriched the soil with Black Kow manure, and kitchen vegetable scraps that I worked in. By October they had grown into pretty 4-foot tall galangal plants, and when I harvested them in the fall the rhizomes were much larger.

galangal 8

I got additional rhizomes for planting from two Thai ladies who were selling galangal at the local flea market. They called it “Thai ginger”. They were selling it with the fresh leaves and stalks still attached to the roots. I asked them what I could do with the leaves. They told me the leaves could be used in soups and other dishes, but they should first be chopped finely as the leaves are rather tough.

Taste comparison – fresh ginger vs. galangal

While fresh ginger root has a refreshing mild “bite” to it, fresh galangal on the other hand tastes like a combination of ginger and hot peppers, or perhaps ginger with hot mustard — it certainly has a “lively” taste !

cut galangal

Thai cuisine uses galangal almost exclusively in place of regular ginger. It is to Thai dishes what regular ginger is to Chinese cooking.

The surface of galangal rhizomes are a pale yellow to ivory color, with leaf-like remnants on some of the regularly spaced “bands” going around the roots. Freshly harvested galangal root also has reddish areas around the stalks and growing buds. This color fades after harvest. Regular ginger has more of a light brown or bronze color, also with evenly spaced ridges going around, but without the leaf-like attachments on the ridges.


Herbal and other uses of galangal (quoted from Medicinal Herb :

“Lovers of the Middle Ages (not middle-aged lovers) used galangal as an aphrodisiac.

Galangal is a peppery, aromatic, and gingery flavored root spice that was popular many centuries ago, but apparently does not suit most modern tastes. In Europe galangal is used to flavor vinegar, beer, aperitifs, and liqueurs.

A 1525 herbal recorded the use of galangal; used as a catarrh snuff (powdered form) and as a cattle medicine. It is said that Arabs use this botanical to make their horses fiery.

Used to spice a Russian liqueur, known as “Nastoika”.

Tartars flavor their tea with a pinch of this root…

A spicy herb used for colitis, diverticulosis, nausea, vomiting, motion sickness or sea sickness, gas, indigestion, paralysis of the tongue, morning sickness, vomiting, hot flashes and menstrual cramps. Cleanses the colon, stimulates circulation, and reduces spasms and cramps.

Galangal tea or tincture, taken hot, promotes cleansing of the system through perspiration and is also said to be useful for suppressed menstruation. Take it to clear up flatulent colic or combine it with laxative herbs to make them more palatable or milder in action. Try it at the onset of a cold to ease the effects of the usual symptoms. Finally, to stimulate the flow of saliva and to soothe a sore throat, chew the rootstock as it is.

Grated galangal can be topically applied externally, as a poultice or hot fomentation to relieve painful aches, sprains, and spasms…”

A bit of trivia: Galangal is sometimes referred to as “Low John The Conqueror Root”, also “Little John” and “Chewing John”.

Growing galangal

Galangal is not frost tolerant and so it must be grown during the warm part of the year in temperate climates, starting in the spring. The leaves will wilt and die off with the onset of winter and freezing temperatures, leaving its viable roots below ground. It is a perennial in tropical climates.

galangal 2

Some sites recommend that galangal be grown in a shady spot of the garden, away from direct sunlight. I planted mine in a sunny part of the garden that got at least six hours of direct sun per day, and they did just fine, growing to a height of about 4 feet and producing good-sized rhizomes. Although come to think of it I did plant them fairly close together in a raised bed so that much of their lower leaves were shaded by their companions. So I’m guessing that a partially shaded area with some sunlight will work well for the plants.

galangal plant

To plant galangal in your garden, enrich the soil area prior to planting with manure and/or rotted vegetable matter such as kitchen scraps — including egg shells and spent coffee grounds. Use cut pieces of live galangal root having at least one growth bud. After danger of frost has passed, plant the root about an inch or so into the soil with the growth bud(s) pointing up. The rhizomes may also be planted in regular potting soil in adequately large pots. Keep the soil moist and in a few weeks you should notice pointy little shoots poking through the soil.

Here’s more information on galangal from a Youtube video by Rob Bob:

How to harvest & plantout Galangal…

— Azul

Disclaimer: Statements in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


2 Comments on Galangal – Alpinia galanga – Ginger’s Hot, Peppery Cousin

  1. Tracy Klett // April 20, 2016 at 7:46 pm // Reply

    I ordered a Galangal rhizome and it’s pretty big. I’m not sure it’s quite warm enough to plant it yet – so can you tell me how to store the rhizome?

  2. Hi Tracy,
    You can store the rhizome in the refrigerator for a week or two (bottom drawer) — after which you would want to plant it as soon as you can.

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