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What is Kaempferia?

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  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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Kaempferia is a group of plants that is part of the ginger family, scientific name Zingiberaceae. Perhaps the most notable plant of this genus, which is grown for both culinary and medicinal purposes, is Kaempferia galanga, also known by the common names of galangal, aromatic ginger, sand ginger, kencur, and resurrection lily. This plant originates in Asia and is used as a culinary herb in a wide range of Asian cuisines. Its powdered rhizomes, or underground stem structures, are also used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Kaempferia galanga is a native of India, China, Taiwan, Cambodia, and other areas of southeast Asia. It is a flowering perennial plant that prefers a warm growing environment reminiscent of its tropical home. Kaempferia galanga also prefers shady growing conditions and moist soil. The plant has small flowers that grow in clusters at the center of its three large, broad, dark green leaves. Flowers are most often white, pink, or lavender in color. They can begin blooming in late spring and can continue to flower until the middle of autumn.

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In Indonesian, Balinese, Javanese, and Chinese cuisine, Kaempferia galanga is a popular cooking ingredient prized for its spicy, aromatic flavor. The rhizomes and leaves of the plant are the parts most frequently consumed. Rhizomes are light brown in color, with an appearance that strongly resembles that of the common ginger root. They may be used to flavor soups, sauces, or rice dishes, while the leaves may be cooked and served as a vegetable.

Kaempferia galanga is one of four unique plant species that are referred to by the common name, "galangal." Though the plants bearing this name have a similar appearance, K. galanga can be distinguished from the others because its flowers have no stems and its rhizomes are lighter in color. The taste of Kaempferia galanga also differs from the galangal that is commonly used as an ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cooking, which has an earthy citrus flavor and lacks spicier notes.

Traditional Chinese medicine also makes use of the rhizomes of this plant, using them to treat a variety of minor medical complaints. The rhizomes are usually sold at herbal medicine stalls in powder form. They are often used to soothe indigestion, and to minimize the symptoms of respiratory ailments, such as the common cold. These uses are, not surprisingly, similar to the medicinal uses of common ginger root. Kaempferia galanga may also be used to soothe pain of headaches and toothaches.

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