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What is Alpinia?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Alpinia is a genus of flowering plants in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. There are over 230 species, native to tropical and subtropical Asia and the Pacific. Alpinia plants often have large, bright flowers, making them popular ornamental plants. Many species are also used in cuisine and folk medicine.

Australian native ginger, Alpinia caerulea, grows in eastern Australia. It features small, round, blue fruits that are pleasantly sour. The fruits may be chewed to stimulate salivation, dried and ground for use as a cooking spice, or added to herbal tea to provide flavor and color. The roots and young shoots of the plant are also used in cuisine, sometimes as a substitute for true ginger.

One of the most popular ornamental species of Alpinia is A. purpurata or red ginger, native to Malaysia. Also called ostrich plume and pink cone ginger, A. purpurata features long, bright red flowers. It is cultivated in many areas, including Hawaii, Florida, Samoa, and many Central American countries. It is the national flower of Samoa. A. purpurata requires abundant moisture, humidity, warm weather, and partial shade, and may be grown indoors or out.

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The native Chinese plant Alpinia zerumbet, with common names including golden lotus and shell ginger, is another popular ornamental species. It is most commonly grown as a houseplant, but may also be grown outdoors or in a greenhouse. A. zerumbet features pale pink flower buds that blossom into red-patterned yellow flowers. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil, high humidity, and full sun to partial shade. In China, the leaves of A. zerumbet are used both for their medicinal properties, and in cuisine as a flavoring and a wrap.

Alpinia galanga, commonly called blue ginger, greater galangal, or Thai ginger, is native to South Asia and Indonesia. It has a variety of traditional uses and is a highly valued plant, cultivated throughout its native range and beyond. A. galanga root is used in Thai, Indonesian, and Russian cuisines. It also has many applications in folk medicine. A. galanga root is used to treat heartburn and gas, cold and sore throat, fungal skin infections, and tuberculosis.

Alpinia officinarum, native to China, may be called Chinese ginger or lesser galangal. Like A. galanga, it is used in cuisine and medicine. A. officinarum has both a sweeter and stronger taste than A. galanga and was historically preferred for this property, though it is used much less often today.

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