Galangal: Benefits, Side Effects, Composition, And How To Use

Medically reviewed by Dr.Varsha Prabala, BAMS, MD
by Sindhu Koganti

Galangal is a spice indigenous to Southeast Asia. It has tremendous therapeutic importance in Chinese and traditional Asian medicine (1).

Galangal gives a fresh feel to any Thai or Asian dish. The phytochemicals in it make galangal a strong antioxidant, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory agent.

This spice is used to treat certain diseases and is believed to boost male fertility, treat infections, and help fight different types of cancers.

In this article, we will discuss galangal in depth and how it can benefit you.

What Is Galangal?

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum and Alpinia galangal) is a member of the Zingiberaceae family. This perennial herb is indigenous to southeast China and Indonesia and grows in the plains of West Bengal, Assam, and Eastern Himalayas in India (1).

Ayurveda and traditional Chinese and European medicine have used different parts of galangal to treat cold, stomach ache, inflammation, diabetes, ulcers, nausea, diarrhea, eczema, and various acute and chronic conditions (1).

The seed of galangal is used as a mouth freshener, dental cleanser, digestive aid, and laxative. The flowers and tender shoots are used as a spice or vegetable. The root or rhizome is used as a spice and source of essential oil (like ginger).

As it looks, tastes, and feels like ginger, galangal is also called the ‘mild ginger’ (Liang-tiang) in Chinese. Like ginger, galangal contains flavonoids, polyphenols, terpenes, and essential oils (2).

Want to know how these bioactive components of galangal work together on your body systems? Read the next section to find the answers.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Galangal?

1. May Possess Antidiabetic Properties

According to a 2015 animal study, methanolic extracts of galangal showed antidiabetic potential. Aerial parts of galangal could stimulate the regeneration of insulin-secreting beta-cells in the pancreas. Administering galangal extracts to diabetic rats lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improving lipid metabolism and preventing diabetic complications (3).

Galangal extract was found to inhibit carbohydrate metabolism, minimizing the post-meal blood glucose spikes. The glucose-controlling activity was on par with synthetic antidiabetic drugs (4).

Due to its antioxidant activity, this herbal medicine can protect your liver and pancreas from oxidative stress and damage. The polyphenols, alkaloids, triterpenes, steroids, and carbohydrates in galangal are proposed to be responsible for this activity (3).

However, more research is required in this area to understand these benefits on humans.

2. Might Possess Antiproliferative Effects

The aqueous extract of Alpinia galangal can inhibit the proliferation of human gastric tumor cell lines. The galangal rhizome (root) contains two cytotoxic compounds, namely, acetoxychavicolacetate and p-coumaryl alcohol-O-methyl ether, that are known to act against cancer cells (5).

Galangal extracts showed anticancer effects on melanoma (skin) cells, preventing skin cancer (5).

The cytotoxic compounds in this Chinese herb can induce glutathione-S-transferase (GST) activity in the liver cells. GST eliminates mutagenic compounds and free radicals, thus preventing cancerous changes (6).

However, more research is needed to understand the molecular mechanisms and anticancer effects of this medicinal root.

3. May Help To Treat Arthritis And Other Inflammatory Diseases

Galangal rhizomes contain flavonoids, tannins, saponins, glycosides, and several phenolic compounds. These phytochemicals showed potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in animal studies (7).

Galangin down-regulates the expression of genes that produce pro-inflammatory compounds like cytokines and interleukins (8).

As galangal extracts may inhibit COX-1 and 2 and lipoxygenase pathways, they could be used to manage arthritis, edema, inflammatory bowel disease, and other inflammatory disorders (9), (10).

4. May Possess Antimicrobial Properties

Researchers claim that the essential oils from dried and fresh galangal rhizomes can eliminate bacteria, yeast, fungi, and parasites. Terpinen-4-ol, one of the monoterpenes in the essential oil derived from fresh galangal rhizome, possesses antimicrobial activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes (11).

Acetoxychavicol acetate (ACA), a compound isolated from the extract of dried rhizomes, is active against certain dermatophyte (skin-infesting) bacterial species. Among turmeric and ginger, galangal has the most potent inhibitory effect against Staphylococcus aureus (11).

Alpinia galanga is also a broad-spectrum fungicide. It can inhibit fungi and yeast, such as Aspergillus niger, Trichophyton longifusus, Colletotrichum musae, Fusarium oxysporum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton rubrum, and Rhizopus stolonifer (12).

May Boost Sperm Count And Motility

Unlike other aphrodisiacs or fertility supplements, galangal is safe and non-toxic. Rat studies showed that 56 days of treatment with galangal rhizome improved spermatogenesis and related parameters (13).

The sperm count and mobility increased after this treatment. The increase in sperm density and motility in cauda epididymis (the storage site for mature sperm) can affect fertilization (13).

Galangal influences the protein production via expression of related genes involved in spermatogenesis. It could, hence, be used in drugs to promote male fertility (13). Clinical data can elucidate the safety of this herbal extract in the future.

In the earlier sections, we briefly discussed how a powerful phytochemical profile gives galangal its unique health benefits.

Let’s look at those phytochemicals in detail.

Biochemical Composition Of Galangal

Most sub-species of galangal have good amounts of flavonoids. Galangin, alpinin, kaempferol, kaempferide, pinene, pineol, chavicol, methyl cinnamate, hydroxycinnamaldehyde, isorhamnetin, camphene, myrcene, p-cymene, borneol, terpineol, 4-terpineol, fenchyl acetate, bornyl acetate, humulene, and zerumbone are a few identified ones (14).

The leaf oil contains myrcene, ocimene, pinene, borneol, caryophyIIene, and bisabolene. The essential oil from galangal flower has a-pinene, sabinene, limonene, phellandrene, 1,8-cineole, linalool, terpinen-4-ol, a-terpineol, methyleugenol, patchoulene, caratol, a-farnesene, nerolidol, bisabolol and benzyl benzoate (14).

The galangal fruits contain acetyleugenol acetate and 1′-acetoxychavicol acetate. The seed contains caryophyllene oxide, caryophyllenol, pentadecane, 7-heptadecane, and fatty acid methyl esters (13).

It is because of these terpinols and esters in the essential oils that galangal is used as a perfume or freshener in India and the Middle Eastern countries.

As a bonus, each serving of galangal contains 45 calories and 2 g of dietary fiber. It is also a natural source of sodium, iron, and vitamins A and C (almost like ginger).

That, indeed, is a powerful biochemical profile. No wonder the Chinese obsessed over galangal and made many recipes with it!

Yes, that’s right. Several cuisines incorporate galangal in their delicacies. Here’s a quick and simple recipe for you.

How To Cook With Galangal Root

It doesn’t take a lot of preparation to cook with galangal root.

The Jungle Thai Curry – With Galangal And Mushroom

What You Need

  • Coconut milk: 2 cps
  • Galangal: 1, ½-inch piece, peeled and sliced
  • Kaffir lime leaves: 3, chopped or torn
  • Salt: 2 teaspoons
  • Fresh mushrooms: ⅓ pound, sliced
  • Thai chili peppers: 5, chopped
  • Fresh lime juice: ¼ cup
  • Fish sauce: 1 tablespoon
  • Boiling pot: medium-large

Let’s Make It!

  1. Add coconut milk and galangal in the boiling pot. Bring it to a boil.
  2. Add the kaffir lime leaves and salt.
  3. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Add mushrooms to the mixture and cook until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Add the lime juice and fish sauce to the mixture. Stir well.
  6. Transfer the contents to a serving bowl.
  7. Garnish with the Thai chilies.
  8. Serve hot with some fresh and fragrant jasmine rice and tapioca crisps.

Gin hâi a-ròi! (Bon appetit!)

South-east Asian and Asian cooking offers everything on a platter that soothes your body during every meal.

If you do not like the taste of galangal in your meals, you can substitute it with ginger. Remember, ginger is a stronger spice than galangal. For every serving of galangal, 3/4th of ginger would do.

Alternatively, you can buy galangal supplements in the form of oil (Buy here!) or capsules (Buy here!).

Precautions And Side Effects Of Galangal

Galangal has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. This root is typically safe when it is consumed in the amounts likely found in foods (1).

Animal studies found that doses of 2,000 mg per kg of body weight resulted in serious side effects, including coma, diarrhea, excessive urination, lack of appetite, a drop in energy levels, and death (15). These side effects were absent at considerably smaller dosages of 300 mg per kg of body weight.

In A Nutshell…

Galangal is a refreshing and worthy addition to your spice rack. Almost every part of the plant can be used for cooking or healing.

Its juice and essential oil, like that of ginger, may help in managing digestive issues, cold, cough, diabetes, and hypertension. Galangal root can add flavor and anti-inflammatory compounds to your dishes and provide many health benefits. It helps in boosting male fertility and may potentially help with the treatment of certain forms of cancer. You can try substituting ginger with galangal in your herbal tea. Make sure to consult a doctor before including this spice in your food preparations.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

How do you store galangal?

A: Wrap the galangal root in a damp, clean cloth. Then, wrap it in a plastic bag. You can store galangal this way in the fridge for a long time. The root retains the moisture from the cloth and stays fresh too.

If it is for extended storage, you might have to change the damp cloth to prevent fungal infestation.

Can you eat galangal raw?

When purchasing this root, check for the younger variants. If the root has a shiny, translucent peel with a peachy beige shade, it can be eaten raw.

Is turmeric and galangal the same thing?

No, both are different. Galangal is more pine-like and citrusy in flavor whereas turmeric has an earthy flavor with bright orange flesh.

Can you freeze galangal?

Yes, the root can freeze up to three months without peeling. It can be frozen without losing any flavor. Cut the unpeeled root into slices a quarter-inch thick, wrap in plastic, and freeze it.

Do you need to peel galangal?

No. Unlike ginger, galangal does not need to be peeled. Thoroughly rinse the root under cold water, rubbing away any dirt, and pat dry.

What does galangal taste like?

Galangal has a sharp citrusy, and pine-like flavor and is used as a food flavoring agent in South East Asian countries.

Is Galangal a spice?

Yes, galangal is a ginger-like spice widely used in South East Asia.

15 sources

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Sindhu Koganti

Sindhu Koganti is a Biotechnology graduate and has been in the writing field for over 4 years now. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has hands-on experience in writing articles and press releases on Life Sciences and Healthcare, Food and Beverages, and Chemicals and Materials. When she’s not writing, she loves watching movies and listening to music. She also enjoys traveling.
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