Sometimes you want to grow something a little less common in the home vegetable garden. Especially if it’s something that you use in your cooking and want on hand. If you love eating galangal, you should try growing it.
Although you can buy it in most Asian markets and increasingly many supermarkets, the freshly dug root has an amazing taste and texture. Add to this the fact you can eat the young shoots, leaves, flowers, and berries, you have a very usable plant.
Even if you don’t live in the right climate, you can grow it indoors in containers. It makes a beautiful houseplant. Ready? Let’s go!
What is Galangal?
Galangal (Alpinia galanga) is a plant in the same botanical family as ginger (Zingiberaceae). The roots look similar and both plants are often used in Southeast Asian cooking.
The rhizome of the plant is what is commonly used in cooking and medicine, though the leaves, shoots, flowers, and berries are edible as well.
The plant forms beautiful pink, yellow, or white flowers with a red center. These blossoms turn into small berries that have a similar flavor to cardamom.
Galangal is also a common medicine in places like India, China, and Japan. It’s been used to treat diabetes and stomach ailments. Studies have found that it’s also anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and anti-flatulent.
The healing power was valued by the Romans in the 9th century and for far longer in Asia, so it certainly has a well-documented history.
Galangal has a distinctive peppery taste combined with pine, versus the earthy flavor of ginger. While ginger has matte, papery skin, galangal is shinier.
Varieties of Galangal
There are two main types of galangal. There is greater galangal (A. galangal) and lesser galangal (A. officinarum). Lesser galangal has a much stronger flavor and is smaller than greater galangal.
Both types grow the same and can be used in cooking, it really depends on your tastes, and what’s available to you.
Galangal greater is more commonly found in supermarkets, but grow whichever appeals to you.
Planting and Propagating Galangal
Like most plants that grow from rhizomes, galangal is quite simple to grow. Whichever ,method you use, space the freshly planted rhizomes at least 18 inches apart.
This is the most straightforward method of propagation because once you have a plant, you can easily divide it to make more. In the spring or fall, dig the whole plant up. Try your best to dig up as much of the rootball as possible.
Use a broad spade, and lever it out of the ground. The foliage should still be attached. Be prepared for your back, legs, and arms to do a workout, particularly if your plant is fairly large.
Speaking of, you can just dig out part of it if it’s simply too large to extract the entire thing. To do this, dig down into the center of the plant and gently pull away a section, root and all.
Wash the dirt off and cut the rhizome into sections. You will need a minimum of four to six inches to replant and at least one node (but more is better). The nodes are kind of like the eyes of a potato. Look for the dark circular spots.
I like to start the new division in pots, so add some good potting soil into a container twice the size of the root. Plant the divided piece two to three inches deep with the foliage sticking up.
Water well and transplant to its permanent home once new growth has started to develop. You can plant these in the ground or in containers. You need at least a five-gallon container if you plan to keep growing your galangal in a pot.
Although many edibles from supermarkets can’t be used to make more plants, galangal works well for this.
Choose the freshest rhizome that you can find. It should be firm and shiny. Cut it into four to six-inch pieces, making sure there are as many nodes on each piece as possible.
Plant the rhizome directly in the garden in spring, or in a container to raise inside. You can transplant it later, or keep it in the container if it’s big enough.
Because galangal produces flowers, you can sometimes find seeds, but they aren’t worth planting. They will likely be sterile or if they do germinate, they won’t grow true.
How to Care for Galangal
If you live in USDA Growing Zones 9 to 12, you’re in luck. You can grow galangal as an evergreen perennial outdoors. In zones 7 to 8, you can grow it as an annual.
Be wary though, because a light frost will cause the foliage to burn and likely die. Consider growing galangal in pots so you can move them around if the weather turns cold.
You can also keep them indoors so long as they’re in a spot with lots of sunlight. Just remember, galangal won’t grow large rhizomes if the container is too small. Use at least a five-gallon container.
Soil temperatures need to be above 60ºF. Ideally, you don’t want the temperature to drop much at all, even at night.
Plant in full to partial sun. You want the foliage to get plenty of light, but the plant can benefit from some shade during the hottest part of the day. Don’t plant in a shaded area that the sun doesn’t get to.
The soil must be well-draining, but have the ability to hold moisture all the time. The pH should be around 6.0 to 7.8. I’ve grown galangal in poor quality soil, and it will grow, but not to its best potential.
If you have sandy or clay soil, work in lots of well-rotted compost. This will improve drainage and water retention.
Water galangal well. It prefers the soil to be moist, so don’t let it dry out. You don’t want the soil to be soggy, either. Aim for something like a well wrung-out sponge.
Be especially aware if you grow it in pots because they tend to dry out quickly. If you can find some natural water retention crystals, consider using those in your containers. You can also find water-retentive mediums.
Follow up with a mild all-purpsose fertilizer once a month during the spring and summer and water in well.
Mulch well to protect the roots from weather extremes and from drying out.
Companion Planting for Growing Galangal
- Sweet Woodruff
Don’t plant with:
Problems and Solutions for Growing Galangal
Galangal is quite a hardy plant when it comes to pests and diseases, but sometimes minor issues occur.
Although galangal needs moist soil, it doesn’t like sitting in water. Standing water will cause it to rot and die.
Initially, the foliage will begin to yellow and wilt for no apparent reason. Remove the plant from the ground and inspect the roots. Trim away any dead, dying, and mushy roots. Trim away any yellow, dead, or dying foliage as well.
You can replant in a different, well-draining spot, or dip in a copper fungicide and then replant.
There are various types of rust depending on your location, but the signs and symptoms are the same.
To start with, you will notice small white spots on the undersides of the leaves. Over time, these small spots grow and become rusty-colored. The leaves will often turn yellow and die before falling off the plant.
If the infection is minor, simply prune away the infected leaves. Avoid over-watering and don’t fertilize too much.
To avoid rust, don’t plant in shaded areas that are too wet and cold. Water the galangal at the soil level, not the leaves. Use a copper spray to treat the disease. The sooner you start, the better.
Spider mites may become a problem with galangal. Read our article on these common pests here.
In as little as three months after planting, but usually 10 to 12 months later, this little gem should be ready for harvest. You could leave it longer to get bigger, but be careful because galangal will go woody quite quickly if left too long past its prime.
If you are going to use the whole rhizome, dig it all up. If you are wanting to keep some in the soil, dig up the edges of the clump. Use a garden fork and work the roots out of the ground.
If you are using the whole root system, wash the dirt off and trim away the foliage. Break the root system into smaller pieces. You’ll see the natural edges and lines of smaller rhizomes.
If you are replanting some straight away, break off the pieces you are keeping and trim away the foliage. Also, trim away any brown or diseased foliage before replanting.
If you want to make harvesting as easy as possible, do what I do. I leave the plant in the ground and just harvest from the outer parts of the plant. That way the main part just keeps growing undisturbed, and you get the fresh young parts every year. Mine has been in the ground for three years.
Just be prepared for a big plant that takes up a lot of space and will potentially shade other sun-loving plants.
The most common use for galangal is to peel the skin off the rhizome and chop up the inner flesh. This can be used to cook with or added raw to dishes, particularly soups, stews, and curries. But don’t limit yourself.
You can candy the rhizome, or use it in desserts like galangal cake, peach pie, or shredded as a topping for baked fruits.
Boil or saute the leaves, use the flowers fresh, or dry the berry and grind it to use as a spice.
5 Tips For Growing Lots of Galangal
- Sunshine is galangal’s best friend. Plant in the sunniest spot in your garden. If you live in a hot climate, some afternoon shade is recommended.
- Mulch: Use good quality, crumbly medium with loads of well-rotted organic matter. The mulch should be at least three inches thick.
- Fertilize: You can use any well-rotted manure or gentle fertilizer, but galangal also responds well to blood meal or bone meal watered in well. Simply sprinkle around the stems of the clumps and water.
- Harvesting: Galangal doesn’t die back like ginger or turmeric to let you know it’s ready. Wait at least 12 months for a really good harvest, or wait for the plant growth to reach at least 3 to 3 1/2 feet in height.
- Pests: If you prefer spray-free gardening or don’t like to use pesticides unless absolutely necessary, galangal is for you. Let the bugs eat a little of the leaves and shoots because galangal is hardy and won’t really notice. It’s only if the pests become too many in number, you need to respond with chemicals.