Alpinia

Scientific Name(S): Alpinia officinarum Hance

Common Name(S): China root, Chinese ginger, East Indian root, galangal, rhizoma galangae

Botany: Galangal is a reed-like perennial herb bearing stems that grow up to 3 feet high and that are covered by sheaths of narrow lanceolate leaves. Its inflorescence is a short raceme of white flowers which are veined and shaded in dull red. The plant has been cultivated for the rhizomes in the idland of Hainan off Southern China, and in coastal areas around Pak-hoi. Galangal rhizomes appear on the market as branched or simple rhizome
fragments and show wavy annulations of the leaf bases. . These are reddish-brown in color and have an aromatic, spicy and pungent odor and flavor.

History: The rhizomes of galangal and its derivatives have long been used for its aromatic stimulant, carminative and condiment properties much like ginger (the dried rhizome of Zingiber officinale). Galangal oil is used to flavor French liqueurs and in some tobaccos. The "ginger" of Thailand is obtained from Alipinia galanga Willd., a species related to galangal. Likewise, the large, ordinary, preserved ginger of China is also from A. galanga. A. galanga (greater galangal), containing the volatile oil essence d'Amali, is used in China and northern India for various respiratory complaints in children, particularly bronchial catarrh (mucous membram inflammation).

Uses of Alpinia

Beyond common use as a flavoring, aromatic stimulant, carminative, and traditional use to treat children's respiratory complaints, Alpinia species show promise as anti-fungals, hypotensives, enhancers of sperm count and motility, etc. Anti-tumor and anti-dementia effects have been observed in rodents.

Side Effects of Alpinia

Toxicity is low; injections can produce psychomotor excitation and the like.

Toxicology: A hydroalcoholic extract of A. speciosa, injected intra-peritoneally (I.P.) in rats at a dose range of 100 to 1400 mg/kg, caused writhing, psychomotor excitation, hypokinesis and pruritus. The LD-50 by I.P. injection was 0.760 +- 0.126 g/kg, and 10.0 +- 2.5 g/kg by the oral route. Subacute toxicity studies in rats revealed an increase in transaminases and lactate dehydrogenase. Blood glucose, urea and creatinine were normal; a histopathological study of the liver, spleen, gut, lung and heart showed no changes. The extract caused a prolongation of sleeping time and a dose-dependent fall in blood pressure in doses of 10 to 30 mg/kg.

Another toxicity study on A. galanga found no significant mortality or weight gain in rats. However, the A. galanga treated animals showed a significant rise in red blood cell levels, weight gain of sexual organs and increased sperm motility and sperm counts. No spermatotoxic effects were noted.

Cytotoxic diterpenes have been found in the seeds of A. galanga.

Summary: The rhizomes of Alpinia officinarum have had long use as aromatic, stimulant, carminative and condiment agents. Numerous recent studies reveal the presence of many pharmacologically active compound in various species of the genus. Among the newer activities revealed for the various Alpinia species are anthelm intic effects, antifungal properties, anti-ulcer effects in seeds, a cardiotonic property, diuretic and hypotensive effects, inhibition of gastric lesions, antiplatelet action antitumor principles and inhibition against prostaglandir synthetase. Toxicity is generally low in the Alpinia species. Because most of these investigations deal with animal studies, much more is needed to verify these effects and provide proof of true clinical usefulness.

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