The plant called the galangal belongs to the ginger family of plants. This herb is used in herbal medicine and is known for its warming and comforting effects on the digestion, similar to related herbs such as the ginger. The herbal properties of the galangal make it ideal as a remedy for conditions in which the central region of the body requires greater warmth, and the nice aromatic quality and mild spicy taste of the galangal make it a very soothing herb. Native to China, Europe had it first galangal specimens around the 9th century, when the first plants were transplanted from China. Europeans became familiar with the healing properties of the galangal, and in this regard, the old European mystic Hildegard of Bingen, spoke of the galangal as a "spice of life," which was given to men by God in order to ward off ill health and diseases of the human body.
Europeans were familiar with the products made from the galangal herb, long before it was eventually identified as a species. Indeed, the botanical classification of the galangal as a distinct species occurred only in the year 1870. When the early botanist and taxonomist came upon galangal specimens obtained from a place called Tung-sai, which lies in the extreme south of mainland China, specimens of the plant were also identified in the native state from the island of Hainan, lying in the China Sea just south of the Tung-sai. This species of the galangal is called the lesser Galangal and was classified as Alpinia officinarum in the official terminology. The species called the Greater Galangal is not a native of China, but is a herb found in the Indonesian island of Java, its botanical name being A. Galanga or Maranta Galanga as classified by the early botanist, though this herb is much larger compared to the Lesser Galangal, it has a weaker taste and odor and is orange-brown in coloration. The Greater Galangal also bears some outward resemblance to the A. calcarata herb. In its native state, galangal can reach up to five feet in height when it is fully grown. The morphology of the herb is characterized by the presence of long and rather narrow blades in the leaves, and curiously arranged floral formations, which tend to grow on a simple and terminal spike, the flowers have white petals and possess a deep red vein color which can be used to mark out the lip petal on the floral body.
Galangal bears underground stems called rhizomes, branches out into different pieces, each of which can be one and a half to three inches long, and about three fourths of an inch thick at the body. Each piece of the rhizome is usually cylindrical in shape, and these are often cut while in a fresh state, each piece of the rhizome is marked at short intervals by the presence of a narrow and whitish color body, which gives rise to raised rings, the legacy of scars produced by former scaly leaves growing along the rhizome. The rhizomes are characterized externally by a dark reddish-brown color, and cuttings of the inner rhizome are characterized by the presence of a dark centre surrounded by a wider and paler layer on the outer rim, that also darkens considerably when the rhizome is dried during processing. The rhizomes of galangal have a strong aromatic odor, and a spicy or pungent taste. The tissue of the rhizome is very tough and difficult to break or cut, due to the presence of many minute and granular ligneous fibers interspersed throughout one side of the main axis. Used for over a millennium as a spice in Europe before its classification a century ago, the galangal is believed to have been introduced into Europe by either the Arab or Greek physicians. However, except in Russia and India, the herb is not used widely nowadays. Russians use it more as a spice due to its resemblance to the common ginger, they flavor vinegar and a Russian liqueur called 'nastoika' using the galangal. Galangal is also popular as a spice in the Baltic republics of Lithuania and Estonia, where it is also used to some extent in herbal medicine. The galangal is used by brewers in the Russian steppes, and the Tartars use the herb to prepare a type of tea. In India, galangal based oil extracted from the herb is valued in perfumery, while the reddish brown powder is used as a snuff.
The Chinese system of medicine has traditionally placed great emphasis on the warming potential of the galangal herb; it has been traditionally used in the treatment of abdominal pain, in treating cases of vomiting, as well as in the treatment of persistent hiccups. Remedies made from the galangal are also used in the treatment of persistent diarrhea arising as a result of internal coldness in the body. The codonopsis and Ju ling herbs are combined with galangal to make the remedy for treating persistent hiccups in affected patients.
The traditional medical systems of south western Asia and the Indian ayurvedic system usually employed the galangal herb as a remedy for treating problems of the stomach, the herb is considered to have an anti-inflammatory and expectorant action on the body, and it is also used as a nervine tonic in these cultures. Various maladies such as long term dyspepsia, and the presence of stomach pain, long term rheumatoid arthritis, and intermittent fever are treated using the herbal remedies prepared from the galangal.
The first remedies made from the galangal came via Arabian physicians who brought them to Europe a millennium ago. Traditionally, the western herbal medical system saw the use of the galangal herbal remedies for the treatment of excessive abdominal gas, in treating indigestion, as well as in the treatment of persistent vomiting, and stomach pain in concord with its use in both the traditional Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Relief from painful canker sores and sore gums can also be obtained by using a galangal based herbal infusion. Sea sickness is another condition, which has traditionally been treated using the remedies made from the galangal, the use of the herb in this role is not surprising as a close herbal relative the ginger is also used in treating motion sickness affecting different patients.
The condition of intestinal candidiasis is often treated using an herbal combination therapy containing galangal and other similar herbs.
A weakened digestive system is greatly aided by the galangal remedy when given at a moderate dose, at such doses the herbal remedy has a warming and gently stimulating effect over the disturbed digestive system, care should be taken when the galangal is used in this role as it can irritate the digestive system and worsen the condition if the remedy is given at higher doses.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The galangal herb belongs to the ginger family of plants. Galangal is an Asian species, and was originally found only in the grasslands along southern parts of China, and in some places in Southeast Asia in general. The cultivation of the galangal as a spice is now carried out in many tropical areas of Asia; it is also used as an herbal medicine in many medical systems unique to the Asian region. The herb grows best in shaded areas away from direct sunlight, it also needs well drained soils to grow in, and is usually propagated by dividing and replanting the rhizomes during the spring. Fresh as well as dried galangal rhizomes are used in the preparation of herbal medicines, normally only plants that are four to six years old are harvested for their rhizomes at the end of the growing season.
The bactericidal action of a decoction made from the galangal was observed during the course of research trials held in China, different pathogenic organism such as anthrax could be suppressed and resisted by the galangal.
The effectiveness of the galangal against the fungal organism Candida albicans was observed in the results of a research published in the year 1988, the herb was seen to be distinctly antagonistic to the pathogenic organism.
Galangal rhizomes are rich in a complex of chemical compounds such as resins, a volatile oil, the compound called galangol, as well as the compounds known as kaempferid, the galangin and alpinin, and carbohydrates like starch among other classes of compounds. The acrid resin and the volatile oil form the main active chemical constituents in the herb. The compound known as galangin present in the plant is a dioxy-flavanol and has been synthetically obtained in the laboratory. All the active compounds present in the herb can easily be extracted out using alcohol and the fluid extract without mixing water and glycerin together.
Galangal is used and made into an herbal infusion; this is prepared by using half a teaspoonful of the powdered rhizome to infuse for ten to fifteen minutes in a cup of boiling water. Dosage of this herbal galangal infusion can be one dose of infusion taken thrice daily. Galangal is also made into an herbal tincture, and doses of one to two ml of the tincture are usually taken thrice daily for as long as necessary.
Collection and harvesting
The rhizomes of the galangal are unearthed and collected in the early autumn and late summer in China, where the plant is extensively cultivated. Harvested rhizomes are carefully washed, and cut into segments and then dried for storage and processing into herbal medicine.