Sand ginger (scientific name Kaempferia galanga) is a monocotyledonous herb belonging to the ginger family. It is commonly believed that sand ginger has its origin in the Asian nations China and India, but currently this plant is extensively cultivated in Malaysia as well as various other southeast Asian nations. The rhizome of this herb is extremely aromatic and people in Malaysia hold it in very high esteem, especially as a spice. As a spice, this herb is used to add flavour to rice. Moreover, it is also used in the traditional herbal medicine of several Asian countries. In Thailand, this spice is quite popular and people there often use it in soups and curries.
Basically, sand ginger is a variety of plant with pseudo-stems having an extremely short rhizome, which is comparable to ginger or turmeric. Usually, sand ginger plants bear white or purple blooms that have a pleasant aroma.
Kaempferia galanga is a very low-growing plant whose leaves not only spread horizontally, but fall on the ground. The leaves of this herb are assembled distichously and positioned very close to each other. This plant bears simple green leaves having an elliptical lanceolate shape. Sand ginger leaves are somewhat aromatic. Each plant of this species bears a solitary flower. Sand ginger is a plant without any stem, but a tuberous, aromatic rhizome, which gives rise to several fibrous slender roots. The rhizome of this plant is succulent and has a cylindrical shape. The plant bears white or purple flowers measuring anything between 6 cm and 12 cm from its centre and in between the many leaves.
People in many parts of the globe have been extensively utilizing the benefits of Kaempferia galangal since the ancient times. For several centuries, people have been employing sand ginger as the base for many traditional folk medicines.
The rhizome of sand ginger plant has a number of uses, including medicinal and culinary. Since the prehistoric ages, people have been using Kaempferia galangal for therapeutic purposes. It was employed extensively to cure a variety of diseases. Sand ginger rhizome is effective for treating influenza, headaches, sprains and many other ailments. People are aware about the efficacy of sand ginger since the ancient times. They knew that this herb is useful in streamlining the body, curing asthma, providing relief from migraine, treating tetanus, rheumatic ailments, coughing as well as aiding in getting rid of acne. In vitro studies have shown that this herb is effectual because it comprises over 23 vital and useful compounds. Of these, seven compounds contain sesquiterpene, aromatic elements and monoterpene compounds.
Currently, in many regions people use sand ginger for making modern medicines as well as cosmetic products.
This herb is effective for elimination surplus body weight and facilitating body slimming. In many places, people mix the sand ginger rhizome with oil and apply it topically to heal wounds and also provide warmth to joints affected by rheumatic arthritis. Fresh rhizomes of the plant are sliced and tied together for use as a poultice. This facilitates seepage from boils. A lotion made from the sand ginger rhizome is employed for getting rid of scales or dandruff from the scalp.
Rhizome of sand ginger contains volatile essential oils, which have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the form of a powder or decoction. The rhizome is macerated in alcohol and the resultant solution is applied in the form of a liniment to treat rheumatism.
In New Guinea, people use the rhizome of sand ginger in the form of an aphrodisiac and entheogen. In Japan, people also use the herb to make incense. On the other hand, people in Malaysia use the leaves and root of this plant for culinary purpose. They put the leaves and root in their curries to enhance the flavour of the dish. They also use the plant for its therapeutic properties.
When dried out sand ginger is burnt in the form of incense, it is believed that its smoke and vapour helps to enhance energy and prevail over melancholy, sadness and exhaustion. In fact, several incense formulae used by the Japanese and Tibetans still enclose this herb. The formulae that are especially meant for promoting alertness, defeating physical fatigue and help to create a contemplative environment inside as well as a peaceful mind contain this herb.
Ancient Indians were familiar with the benefits offered by sand ginger (Kaempferia galangal). Even people in the West have been using this herb since the Middle Ages. The Tartars also identified the tonic and stimulant properties of sand ginger. The Tartars generally used this herb with their tea. People in India often chew this herb with betel nut (scientific name Areca catechu). In the East as well as the Far East, people use the powdered form of this herb. Aside from using it in the form of snuff, they also use the rhizome in brewing and perfumery. This herb also possesses a mystical property - the root of sand ginger plant may be dried and reused many times for preparing tea. It is very easy to prepare herbal tea with the dried rhizome of sand ginger. Just boil one ounce of the dried out rhizome in three cups of water for about five minutes. Subsequently, remove the soaked root and keep it aside for it to dry out. You can use the root again when it is dry.
In Asian folk medicines, rhizome of sand ginger is used in the form of a carminative and expectorant. In India, people use the tea prepared with the leaves of the herb to relieve swellings, sore throat, treat rheumatism as well as eye infections. In Thailand, people crush the roots of sand ginger and mix it with whiskey. The resultant product is applied externally to the head for relief from headaches. The Arabs also prize this herb mainly because of its proven tonic and stimulant properties. It has been established that these properties of the sand rhizome root help to instantly bring down temperatures during fever and also reduce swellings immediately. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is considered that the rhizome of sand ginger (Kaempferia galangal) is fragrant, warm and pungent. It is also believed that the herb is very useful for the respiratory system, especially the lungs. This herb is also employed for treating cold in the abdomen and chest, curing diarrhea, vomiting, toothache and eliminating intestinal parasites.
In Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea people employ the rhizome of Kaempferia galanga in the form of a hallucinogen. It is said that using the herb in this manner creates hallucination, but with no adverse side effects. It has also been reported that the rhizome of this herb is euphoric, aphrodisiac and helps to create pleasant as well as prophetic dreams. According to a report from the West, consumption of the powdered sand ginger rhizome helps to bring clarity of thoughts as well as visual alterations. There are a number of other reports that suggest that oral use of the powdered herb does not create any effect whatsoever. However, this may be owing to the use of a variety of the herb, which is not the original root of Kaempferia galanga plant.
The mature rhizomes of sand ginger (Kaempferia galanga) enclose a number of compounds that are very strong insecticides and can even be used for mosquito control. Findings of a similar study undertaken previously have shown that even species like K. rotunda and Zingiber cassumunar possess comparable properties.
You may slice the dried rhizome of sand ginger (Kaempferia galanga) and cook them along with meat as well as vegetable dishes. However, this spice is generally used in its fresh form after crushing or grating it. Sand ginger is an essential spice for Javanese cooking and more often it is found in the typically spicy-sweet dishes that are common to this island. For instance, lesser galangale or sand ginger is often used to flavour sweet soy sauce; peanut sauce prepared from ground peanuts; various raw spices such as garlic, chilies and also lime juice and tamarind water. Sambal kacang, a typical dish of the island, is generally served to delicious and satiated, grilled meat held by tiny skewers. Moreover, this spice blends perfectly with steamed or boiled vegetables.
Cultivating sand ginger is quite easy. In order to cultivate sand ginger, cuttings of mature rhizomes of this species, each having 3-4 leaf buds, are planted in a media, preferably in somewhat shady locales or in open fields. Alternatively, the rhizome cuttings can also be grown in pots. Prior to planting, the mature rhizome cuttings are immersed in fungicide with a view to protect them from various soil-borne diseases. In addition, the cuttings from the mature rhizome are pre-germinated in a suitable growing media, before they are planted in their permanent positions outdoors. This helps to ensure that they stand excellently in the field.
One good thing about cultivating sand ginger is that these plants can be grown on wide-ranging types of soils having good texture, high in organic content and with an excellent drainage. Plants of this species can be cultivated both in the tropical as well as sub-tropical regions. The vegetative growth of these plants begins quite early when they are grown in favourable/natural conditions, especially during the rainy season. As the rhizomes of the sand ginger begins to mature, the leaves start drying up. This usually happens in the drought season.
Harvesting as well as collection of the vegetative tips and the mature rhizomes of sand ginger are done manually. The young leaves and the tender rhizomes of the plant are harvested before the plant starts drying up for use as salads and various culinary purposes. However, the mature rhizomes of the plant are harvested about 10-12 months of planting them for medicinal use. The mature rhizomes are collected when the leaves of the herb begin to turn yellow and eventually dry up.