Updated on August 27, 2009.
Galangal (Galanga, Blue Ginger) was something I used to associate exclusively with Indian cooking until I learned how important it is in Southeast Asian cooking too; in Thai cuisine, particularly, where it is sometimes known as Siamese ginger. Fresh galangal looks like ginger but the flesh is more white than yellow. Galangal is also much harder (tougher) than ginger. Neither do they taste alike since galangal has a dominant citrusy flavor. In places where galangal is not widely cultivated, it is sold in powdered form, pickled or in jars as crushed galangal (see photo).
Just like ginger, galangal is boiled to make tea and often used to cure colds and other nasal conditions. In fact, its function in herbal medicine has been known for several centuries.
Book author Ingrid Naiman wrote in one her blogs:
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was one of the foremost herbal authorities of her day. I had researched her formulas for my book on botanical cancer treatments and discovered, much to my amazement, that galangal was so highly revered by her that she actually wrote that it had been given by God to provide protection against illness. “The spice of life,” as she called galangal, appears in many Hildegard formulas
For instance, Hildegard had a formula for deafness due to catarrh or infection in which galangal, called “catarrh root,” was the cornerstone. She said to take galangal and one-third as much aloe powder as galangal plus twice as much oregano as aloe and some peach leaves…
Galangal was also the principle herb of Hildegard”?s three-week cure for heart problems. She had a pill, a juice, and a powder for heart pain. The pills were to be taken three times a day, after meals during the first week and between meals for the next two weeks. The pills consisted of equal parts of galangal and pellitory, a perennial herb that is native to the Mediterranean as far east as the Middle East, and a quarter as much white pepper…
But health benefits that can be derives from consuming galangal are not its only attractions.
Today, galangal is still in use in Russia, where it is used to make vinegars as well as liqueurs. It also has a thriving market in India, where it is not only valued as a spice but also as a perfume to make deodorants. [What is galangal?]
If you intend to grow your own galangal, it is planted very much like ginger. But a piece of fresh unbruised galangal and plant directly into shallow well draining soil. It doesn’t like frost though so if you live in the country with harsh winters, planting during the spring is recommended.