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Alpinia galanga (L.) Willd. 1797
pronounced: al-PIN-ee-uh gal-LONG-guh
(Zingiberaceae — the ginger family)
common names: Galangal, Thai Ginger
Alpinia is named for Prospero Alpino (1553–1617), an Italian physician; galanga comes from the Arabic khulendjan or khalangian, which in turn possibly comes from the Chinese liang-kiang, meaning ‘mild ginger’.
The plant grows from rhizomes, in clumps with thick stalks up to about 2 m in height, and large lanceolate leaves. Numerous flowers are borne on an erect spike. The individual flowers are very small, orchid-like, fragrant, pale yellow with a white lip that has a red centre and a prominent pale green or white stamen. Red fruits are produced in some climates.
This native of south Asia and Indonesia is a very popular spice there, where it is widely cultivated at any altitude up to about 1200 m. Its rhizome is a common ingredient in Indian and Thai curries and soups, where it is used fresh, mashed and mixed into curry paste. The rhizome has a sharp, sweet taste and a peppery smell. The rhizome is also an ingredient of the Bitters used in mixed drinks. Shoots from the plant, as well as flower buds and the open flowers can be eaten after being steamed – the shoots are very hot when raw.
There are many medicinal uses of various parts of the plant. The rhizomes are used in the treatment of skin diseases such as eczema and ringworm, respiratory diseases, and as a stomachic after childbirth, for most types of intestinal illnesses, as an expectorant, an abortifacient and an aphrodisiac. The seeds are used, especially in Malaysia, to treat colic, diarrhœa, vomiting and herpes. An infusion of the leaves is used in some places as a post-natal medicine.
The rhizome is one of the three staple roots in African-American hoodoo, named for John the Conqueror, an American slave (possibly fictional) who was an inspiration to other slaves wanting to rebel against their masters. The roots are:
High John the Conqueror root – the tuber of Ipomoea jalapa. The root is not ingested, probably because it is a powerful laxative, but is carried on the person as a pocket piece or as an ingredient in a mojo bag, especially one designed to bring luck at gambling, or to enhance sexual power.
- Dixie John root – the root of Trillium grandiflorum (Wake-Robin) and related species. Again, these are not ingested, but carried – a whole root for luck, various potions made from it for marital and sexual problems. For good sex, the root is put in a muslin bag and laundered with the bed linen.
- Chewing John, Little John to Chew or Court Case root – the rhizome of Alpinia galanga. A typical spell using this root consists of chewing a piece of root, swallowing the juice, and discreetly spitting out the cud on to the courtroom floor before the judge enters. He will then decide the case in your favour. The root is also sold ground up into a powder, to be sprinkled on offertory candles.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2012
Page last updated 12th July 2018