|Lesser Galangal (Alpinia officinarum)|
Languas officinarum (Hance) P.H.Hô
Alpinia officinarum, known as lesser galangal, is a plant in the ginger family, cultivated in Southeast Asia. It originated in China, where its name ultimately derives. It can grow several feet high, with long leaves and reddish-white flowers. The rhizomes, known as galangal, are valued for their spicy flavor and aromatic scent. These are used throughout Asia in curries and perfumes, and were previously used widely in Europe. They are also used as an herbal remedy.
The genus is named for Prospero Alpini, a 17th-century Italian botanist who specialized in exotic plants. The word "galangal" comes from the Arabic form of a Chinese word for ginger, "Liang-tiang".
This herbaceous plant can grow up to ten feet in height, though three to five feet is more common. The leaves are lanceolate (long and thin), and the flowers are white with streaks of red, growing from a spike at the top. The plant's rhizomes, known as galangal, are thin and tough, and they are the principal reason the plant is cultivated. They have orange flesh inside, with a brow coating, and have an aromatic odor and a pungent flavor. These are smaller than greater galangal.
The galangal rhizomes were widely used in ancient and medieval Europe, reputed to smell of roses and taste of spice. Its use in Europe has dramatically declined, however, and is now only used in Eastern Europe. It is used in Russia for flavoring vinegar and the liqueur Nastoika. It is still used as a spice and medicine in Lithuania and Estonia.
Alpinia officinarum contains high concentrations of the flavonol galangin, which has been shown to slow the increase and growth of breast tumor cells. Historically, the rhizomes were reputed to have stimulant and digestive effects.
Lesser galangal is native to China, growing mainly on the southeast coast, and grows in Hainan, Japan and Thailand. It is also cultivated in India which is the second largest exporter of the galangal rhizome. Hong Kong is the commercial center for the sale and distribution of the lesser galangal.
Other species 
The term "lesser galangal" properly refers to Alpinia officinarum. In common usage, however, the term is also applied to Kaempferia galanga, an almost stemless plant that develops its few short-lived leaves and the flower at ground level. (The stem of A. officinarum, by contrast, is several feet high.) Cyperus longus is also known as "galingal", and has similar uses. Its rhizomes are spicy and starchy, used in cooking.
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- M. Grieve, "Galangal, from A Modern Herbal, 1931.
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- So, F. V.; Guthrie, N.; Chambers, A. F.; Moussa, M.; Carroll, K. K. (1996). "Inhibition of human breast cancer cell proliferation and delay of mammary tumorigenesis by flavonoids and citrus juices". Nutrition and Cancer 26 (2): 167–181. doi:10.1080/01635589609514473. PMID 8875554.
- So, F.; Guthrie, N.; Chambers, A. F.; Carroll, K. K. (1997). "Inhibition of proliferation of estrogen receptor-positive MCF-7 human breast cancer cells by flavonoids in the presence and absence of excess estrogen". Cancer Letters 112 (2): 127–133. doi:10.1016/S0304-3835(96)04557-0. PMID 9066718.
- Alpinia officinarum Hance Medicinal Plant Images Database (School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University) (traditional Chinese)(English)
- 高良薑, Lesser Galangal Rhizome, Gao Liang Jiang Chinese Medicine Specimen Database (School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University) (traditional Chinese)(English)