Alpinia officinarum

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Alpinia officinarum
Alpinia officinarum - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-156.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Zingiberales
Family: Zingiberaceae
Genus: Alpinia
Species: A. officinarum
Binomial name
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 sweet 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-jiang.[1][2]


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, the part known as galangal, are thin and tough, and they are the principal reason the plant is cultivated. They have orange flesh with a brown coating, and have an aromatic odor and a sweet flavor. These are smaller than greater galangal which have a stronger peppery pine-like bite that is lacking in the sweeter rhizomes of lesser galangal.[1][2]


The galangal rhizomes were widely used in ancient and medieval Europe, where they were reputed to smell of roses and taste of sweet spice.[1] Its use in Europe has dramatically declined, however, and is now mainly 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.[2]

In Asia the rhizomes are ground to powder for use in curries, drinks, and jellies.[1] In India an extract is used in perfumes, and Tatars prepare a tea with it.[2]

Alpinia officinarum contains high concentrations of the flavonol galangin,[3] which has been shown to slow the increase and growth of breast tumor cells.[4][5] Historically, the rhizomes were reputed to have stimulant and digestive effects.[1]


Lesser galangal is native to China, growing mainly on the southeastern coast, and it grows in Hainan, Japan, and Thailand.[1] It is also cultivated in India. Hong Kong is the commercial center for the sale and distribution of the lesser galangal.[1]

Common name confusion[edit]

Although the common name "lesser galangal" most appropriately refers to Alpinia officinarum, it is sometimes misapplied to other plants, such as Kaempferia galanga, which has a peppery camphorous taste and is used in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries. Cyperus longus is sometimes referred to as as "galingal", and has similar uses, with spicy, starchy rhizomes used in cooking.[1] Boesenbergia rotunda, also called Chinese ginger or fingerroot, is sometimes also referred to as "lesser galangal."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Gualtiero Simonetti (1990). Stanley Schuler, ed. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Herbs and Spices. Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 0-671-73489-X. 
  2. ^ a b c d Grieve, M. "Galangal". From A Modern Herbal, 1931.
  3. ^ Ciolino, H. P.; Yeh, G. C. (1999). "The flavonoid galangin is an inhibitor of CYP1A1 activity and an agonist/antagonist of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor". British Journal of Cancer. 79 (9/10): 1340–1346. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6690216. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ 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. 

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