Galangal, Herb of the Month: An interesting, but less familiar herb

Galangal, Herb of the Month: An interesting, but less familiar herb

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

The pungent, aromatic rhizome of the galangals, greater galangal (Alpina galangal) and lesser galangal (Alpina officinarum) are used in southeast Asian cuisines. They are trogalangal.jpgpical herbaceous plants in the ginger family with strappy leaves and white flowers resembling orchids. The rhizomes are red/white – orange/brown and are ringed with the scars of former leaves. The greater galangal rhizome is larger than that of the lesser galangal. In tropical climates, the rhizomes are harvested after three to four months of growth. While the greater galangal is used for cooking, it is the rhizome of the lesser galangal that has been used for its medicinal properties since the Middle Ages.

It is thought that the Arabic people brought the spice to Europe in the ninth century. It is said that they used the spice to “fire up” their horses. The notable Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen called galangal the “spice of life” and used it as a major healing spice in the early 12th century. In Chinese herbal medicine, galangal is used to treat abdominal pain. In India and southwestern Asia, it is also used for stomach pain and as an expectorant. In western herbalism, it has been used for indigestion, vomiting, and stomach pain and as a treatment for sea sickness.

Galangal’s spicy warm flavor is used in the Indonesian fried rice dish nasi goreng. It is sometimes used in the Chinese five-spice blend. A popular Polish vodka, Żołądkowa Gorzka Vodka, is flavored with galangal. (Translated, it means bitter vodka for the stomach.) It is often used in seafood dishes with chili, garlic, and lemon and can be sliced and used in soups and stews. The slices should be removed before serving. Fresh and dried galangal can be found in Asian or specialty grocery stores. It is also available as a powder.

For more information about the galangals and interesting recipes using it, go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month website. You will also find more than six years of Herbs of the Month on this webpage, making it an ideal place to start your herbal research.

Herb Society Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment.

Herb of March: Discovering Amaranth

Herb of March: Discovering Amaranth

By Paris Wolfe, with Randel A. Agrella, Seed Production Manager for The Baker Heirloom Seed Company

Amaranth Kerala red and Orange Giant_1When Karen Kennedy, Herb Society of America educator, told me amaranth was March Herb of the Month I was surprised. I had thought it a grain, not an herb. And, I didn’t know anyone who was growing it.

As synchronicity would have it, I picked up The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Heirloom Seed Company and 14 variations led the book. On a quest to learn more, I contacted Randel A. Agrella, Seed Production Manager. Now I want several in my garden as ornamentals and edibles.

 I thought amaranth was more of a weed not a cultivated food.

Amaranth is not a weed, but it sure grows like one! It has been cultivated for centuries in both the Old World and New. Several species exist. There are amaranths grown primarily for grain, or for the nutritious leaves, or both. There are also ornamental forms. That said, the plant has kept its vitality from the original days as a wild plant. And, actually, several amaranth species in North America ARE weeds. These are usually called “pigweed,” although that name is also used on some non-amaranth types.

How did The Baker Heirloom Seed Company manage to collect so many varieties of amaranth? 

By traveling to remote areas, shopping in unlikely places, and responding to customers, who often offer new varieties of many crop types, including amaranth.

Are they different in any way other than color?Amaranth Karala Red LSS 378

They vary in both leaf and stem color, and in the color of their rather amazing seed heads. They also differ in leaf-form –there are round-leaf types as well as the more usual, lanceolate leaf types. Seed color is also variable, with the white- or tan-seeded types being more favored for grain. There are some dwarf types, mainly the result of recent breeding efforts to tone down this robust plant. There are some variations in the flower-heads’ shape as well–most usual is a plume-like inflorescence, but there are some with a completely different shape, known as Elephant Head (because of a fancied resemblance to an elephant with upraised trunk). There is a weeping or trailing form, as in Love Lies Bleeding, which is grown as an ornamental, yet used for both its leaves and its seeds in its countries of origin.

What’s amaranth is the rarest?

The rarest ones are yet to be identified.

What amaranth plants are the popular? 

Golden Giant, an orange-flowered grain type, and Love Lies Bleeding Red, have been grown as an ornamental in American gardens for generations.

Tell me about their health benefits.

The seeds are very high in protein, and this protein is more digestible than that of many commonly grown crops. They offer a more complete protein and are especially rich in lysine, an amino acid often lacking in plant protein sources. The seeds are gluten-free, have anti-inflammatory and possibly even anti-mutagenic properties.

The blog for The Herb Society of America is written by members, staff and guest authors, to promote herb appreciation from cultivation and use to learning and research. It supports the Herb Society’s goals to protect botanical heritage, steward scientific diversity and promote personal enjoyment. Membership is open to individuals and businesses.

What are you doing with amaranth?