Although you may not have heard of this particular plant the rhizome was very popular in Europe as a spice in the Middle Ages. Chaucer mentions it in “The Canterbury Tales” and spells it “galyngale”, but it was the lesser galangal, Alpinia officinarum, that was popular in his time as it is more pungent than the Greater one which is Alpinia galanga. There is yet another variety, Keampferia galanga, all of which have rhizomes which resemble ginger and turmeric. They are members of the ginger family.
   You may be forgiven for thinking that the Latin name Alpinia has something to do with the Alps, but you would be mistaken as this genus was named after a famous 17th century Italian botanist, Prospero Alpino.
   The Greater galangal grows to a height of 5 feet and the Lesser one to around 3 feet. The rhizomes are about three inches long, and have an aromatic smell similar to pine needles when fresh. When dried the smell is more like cinnamon. The root has been used as a spice for more than a thousand years, in both Europe and Asia, although it has long since gone out of favour. It was introduced wither by Greek or Arab physicians. In Russia it is used to flavour vinegar and in a liqueur called “nastoika” and in Lithuania and Estonia it has been used as a medicine and spice for centuries. In India it is still used in medicine, perfumery and brewing. It is believed to be native to China and Indonesia, but grows in South West India and the Eastern Himalayas too.
    The fruits of the plant (berries) can be used in cooking as a substitute for cardamom seeds, and galangal powder goes well with fish and seafood as well as poultry, but you only need a little to flavour a dish.
   It has gone by other names in English and these testify to the uses it had in medicine, Colic Root, East India Catarrh Root, China Root and India Root. It is supposed to make an excellent remedy for sea-sickness, and was given to those who suffered from flatulence, dyspepsia, vomiting and other stomach disorders. It was also used for fevers and to generally strengthen the body and as an aphrodisiac. Modern medical studies have shown that it increases the sperm count of rats, and the mobility of the sperm, and it has also tentatively suggested that the plant and its extracts could be potentially beneficial as an anti-tumour, anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-microbial agent. It may also help lower cholesterol levels. It contains the bioflavonoids quercetin and kaempferol and has strong antioxidant effects. The seeds may have anti-ulcer properties.
   Traditionally on the Indian subcontinent it has been used to control incontinence and fever, and also as an anti-fungal. Apart from its medicinal qualities it was once used as a deodorant and for combating bad breath. It has also been used in the same ways as in Europe. Modern research shows that it might be able to alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia.
 As to its reputation as an aphrodisiac, this is what Gerard, writing in 1597 says of the roots “they conduce the venery, and heate the too cold reines (loins).”

3 lbs chicken cut into 4 or 6 serving pieces and scored
4 brazil nuts, ground
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsps ground coriander seeds
1 tsp galangal powder
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or minced
½ tsp turmeric
4 tbsps oil*
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cups coconut milk
2 inch stick of cinnamon or cassia bark
1 stalk of lemon grass
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
salt to taste
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

Mix the nuts, chilli, coriander seeds, galangal, garlic and turmeric into a paste with a little oil (*sesame mixed with olive oil is good) and rub over and into the chicken.
Leave to marinate for at least 3 hours, preferably leave overnight in the fridge.
Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the onions until golden, then add the chicken pieces and again fry til golden.
Gradually add the coconut milk stirring continuously until it boils.
Add the lemon grass and cinnamon stick and simmer for 30 mins.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and salt to taste.
Serve with plain rice and chutneys.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


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  1. Hi,

    This comes years after you posted the above, but thanks!

    What an informative article and thanks for the recipe too, made me hungry right away!

    In India, we also used to use the dried root of Kulanjan to stop dry coughs at night. I guess it also much help bad breath as you mentioned!


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