Growing and Caring for Galangal Plants

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If you are into Thai food, you have probably tasted this ginger variety. It is used extensively in many dishes in Thai cuisine and cultural medicines throughout southeast Asia.

If you were to grow a couple of ginger varieties, this is one we would recommend, along with the common ginger and turmeric.

We are fortunate to live in a tropical area with the perfect conditions for growing all three of these, so we do. We are self-sufficient in all three, so we have enough knowledge of them to share what we know and how we grow and use these.

We have listed the common questions below on growing galangal, and we trust you can find something here that will help you on your path to growing this wonderful plant.

Is galangal easy to grow?

Galangal is a tough, reliable plant that is easy to grow, a pleasure to use in the kitchen, and a plant that can be with you for a long time if you want it to hang around.

We have a few patches of this member of the ginger family in our yard, and we consider ourselves self-sufficient in it. We started with just a single rhizome that had begun to shoot, and about 4-5 years later, we could now fill a few buckets with roots if we were to dig it all up.

You can achieve the same if you wish, and all it takes is to have the plant grow for a few seasons without harvesting it all, and it will allow you to divide the rhizomes and spread them around in more locations.

It is that easy. Anywhere you can grow ginger and turmeric, you can grow galangal.

How long does galangal take to grow?

Galangal can take at least 12 months to get to a size where you can take from the root base and still have enough left with the plant to ensure its survival.

Unlike the common ginger and turmeric plants, galangal is an evergreen and will retain vegetation all year. This can be a blessing or a curse because we don’t get the opportunity to lift the rhizomes entirely and store them over winter.

The plant stays put, so we have to work around this. How we go about this is discussed below in the harvesting section.

How long does galangal take to sprout?

So maybe you have been given a piece of galangal or found some at a local shop or marketplace. It is still just a lump of root and is showing no signs of wanting to regrow into a new plant.

How long does it usually take to start growing? We should consider a few variables before getting to the answer. The first is how cold it is where you live as you look at your galangal root on the bench.

If it is in the year’s colder months, you might have to wait for the temperatures to rise before you see some activity.

Galangal is similar to the rest of the gingers and will sprout when there is a moist warm climate. It can take several weeks to grow from rhizomes left on the bench top waiting for the warmth and humidity to set it off.

When do you harvest galangal?

Galangal can be harvested once the plant is at least a full year old, and because galangal is an evergreen, you don’t need to lift the whole plant out of the garden.

All you need do is to take some of the rhizomes from the edges of the galangal clump that should have formed through the year. The longer you can leave it, the better, and the larger the clump will become.

growing galangal ginger
Fresh shoots all over the place.

A complete harvest can be undertaken when you wish to divide the plant and spread it around into other locations in the yard.

This is the great thing with galangal because you can prune the leaves on the rhizomes you have lifted and replant the roots back into the soil and water them in. Fresh leaves will appear in a few weeks, and away you go.

Does galangal grow back?

Yes, the galangal will grow back even if you cut back the entire top of the plant and use it as mulch around the area where the galangal is growing. These leaves will slowly break down and feed the plant for the next few weeks or months.

This can be done at the start of the wet season to help the plant with a nutrient dose as the leaves rot from the moist conditions that the wet season typically brings. It is also an excellent time to divide and spread the plant.

What is the difference between galangal and ginger?

While both of these plants are closely related, we can see a few noticeable differences straight up. The leaves are very different; the ginger has a fine leaf blade compared to the galangal.

The height of the two plants is also a big giveaway because the galangal will tower over the common ginger. To ensure we are on the same page here, we are talking about the greater galangal, or Alpinia galanga as it is named.

growing greater galangal
This galangal clump is under a nam doc mai mango tree. Ginger leaves front right.

There is a smaller variety of galangal called Alpinia officinarum, and the difference in the leaves is still there. We only have the greater galangal here, so this is what we know to write about factually.

Ginger is a perennial plant that dies back each season and then regrows from the rhizome again. Galangal continues to grow all year long, and while this might be a bit different in the coldest limits of where this plant will tolerate, it produces all year in the tropics.

The flavor of the ginger is far more robust than the galangal, and we find the galangal to be a bit on the sweet side. We use it as a spicy additive to pancake mixes, and we even use dehydrated and powdered galangal in mango smoothies; we love the extra hit of sweet spice.

Can you substitute galangal for ginger?

You would be a brave person to use galangal in a recipe that calls for ginger to be used. They have totally different taste profiles and scents, so it is doubtful that the substitution would be a success.

We have found that every variety of ginger has its flavor and smell, which is even picked up in the leaves of each plant type.

Does galangal taste like ginger?

No, they both taste pretty different. Ginger is a very sharp taste, and galangal is far more subtle.

The way we use galangal is we dry the rhizome and powder it. We then use it more as a desert spice than as a sharp ginger hit that we all recognize the ginger as having.

Can galangal and ginger grow together?

Ginger and galangal can be grown together; however, they are both very different in growth habits, so some thought should be applied to make the most from both plants.

Galangal is a tall evergreen clumping ginger variety that will slowly spread over the years if you leave it in situ. Common ginger is a plant half the height that dies back each winter and allows the rhizomes to be harvested as a block.

I am suggesting that it is possible to use the galangal as a screening plant or hedge of sorts to offer shade to the gingers during the hotter months.

It is also possible to have the galangal as a rear plant and have the gingers and even some turmeric in front of the galangal, and this would look lovely along a path.

Because the galangal is evergreen, don’t discount it as just a food plant because you could be missing a fantastic opportunity to use it as a landscape planting. To get some more ideas about using gingers as landscape plants, “21 edible ornamental gingers” is worth investigating.

Are galangal leaves edible?

Galangal leaves can be eaten and are mostly cooked as a vegetable or food wrapping. The leaf’s taste is said to be a mild citrus taste and smell; we can imagine this being accurate as our beehive leaves also have something along these lines.

How tall does galangal grow?

When the conditions are good, galangal will easily reach ten feet tall (3mts+). It is a pleasant plant to look at and is reasonably tidy if you remove the leaves once they are spent and die off.

This happens leaf by leaf and is not a mass event like the common ginger and turmeric. We chop these dead leaves into smaller sections and drop them in the same location as a mulch.

We also trim stray leaves that are a bit wayward and want to encroach on other plants. This is also chopped and dropped.

Can galangal be grown in pots?

You could grow galangal in a pot, but the pot should be solid enough to allow for the tall leaves in any wind.

There is a good chance that the pot may tip over if the size is insufficient. If you are in a location that requires pots, like a balcony, “6 gingers to suit a balcony herb garden” is recommended.

We would use something like a 2ft (600mm) diameter pot that is just as deep to give some mass to the whole thing, and this also allows you to get plenty of good soil in there for the plant to grow in.

Remember that this plant will continue to grow all year, so consider this. Also, consider the type of soil you fill the pot with and the mulch you should use.

What conditions does galangal grow in?

Galangal is like all of the gingers when it comes to conditional preferences. Galangal is a tropical plant that is from southeast Asia.

To give your plant the best conditions, we recommend you attempt to reproduce the same conditions that the plant is accustomed to in the tropical setting.

These conditions include well-draining soil rich in organic matter and well-mulched on the soil surface. The soil should retain plenty of moisture without becoming waterlogged.

Every member of the ginger family will suffer from rhizome rot if the soil holds too much moisture. The temperatures should be warm, and the plant should enjoy humidity.

How much water does galangal need?

Galangal will take plenty of water but can also survive in relatively dry conditions as well. The better the watering, the more rhizomes you will receive in return.

We have some galangal clumps that are in some pretty harsh growing conditions, and they seem to be fine. We have not inspected the size of the rhizomes, but we would expect what there is to be tough and not the best for kitchen use.

If the soil conditions are good, with no chance of the soil holding so much water that the roots will rot, then there is no reason you couldn’t water this plant every day if the desire took hold of you.

Again, this is very similar to all the ginger family. Regular watering is the preferred method of growing galangal for the best in culinary rhizome return.

Can galangal grow in shade?

Yes, galangal will grow in shade, and it can also take up to 80-90% sun as well.

The plant will become a bit tatty if you give it too much sun; however, we have galangal growing in both locations, and they are both doing fine.

The shaded plant is greener than the plant in the sun, and we will inspect both rhizomes in a few weeks to see if there is a noticeable difference.

This information is relevant to the tropics, where we live, so add more sun as you move away from the tropical zones.

Does galangal need fertilizers?

This is a choice that you need to make at a personal level, but galangal can grow with or without fertilizers. By fertilizers, we mean the store-bought chemical additives formulated in a lab somewhere.

We grow all of our food using the chicken droppings from the hen house. We have a dedicated article on how and why titled “improve your garden soil with rock dust and chickens” and we recommend it.

Can galangal grow in cold climates?

We have no experience with growing galangal in cold places, so we lean on research to give a trustworthy answer to this question. Reports show galangal can grow in zones nine and up, which makes sense.

The biggest challenge the galangal growing will face is the plant’s evergreen growth habits. It doesn’t drop all leaves and become dormant, so the leaves must be protected during the coldest months.

This can be achieved with polytunnels and greenhouses, but we don’t all have that available, so what do you do? We recommend you have the plant in a pot and relocate it indoors if you are in zone 9 and lower.

Cutting back the leaves for the winter might be worth a try but test this on a single plant before you take to all of them. The plant should come back with fresh shoots if it is going to work, and the worst case is you lose just the single plant and get to eat the rhizome anyway.

Does galangal have pests to be aware of?

We have no experience growing galangal outside of the climate where we live. However, we have found the plant to be very robust and one that does not suffer from any local problems like insects and fungal issues.

It really is one of the plants that we can ignore to the point of neglect.

This may change for your situation because it often happens that when a plant is introduced into conditions it has not naturally adapted to, this can stress the plant, which actually calls in predatory things to kill it.

If you want to grow galangal in your area, ask around in garden clubs and plant nurseries to see if others have had success.

Conclusions.

Galangal is one of the plants we are self-sufficient in, and we are always trying new ways to use the roots in the kitchen. We have found it dehydrates well, making it a great powder for many dishes and recipes.

We recommend this plant to readers with the appropriate climate for it and believe you will not regret growing it one bit.

Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.