The plant is a tropical one and will not tolerate any frost. It stays close to the ground, maybe achieving an overall height of 1 to 3 inches (2 1/2 to 7 1/2 cm.) One of its names in English — Sandginger — allude to its hugging the ground.
It has almost no central stem or stalk to speak off; its leaves just grow right off the rhizome, leaves up to 6 inches (15 cm) long. Some varieties have glossy solid green leaves, some have variegated leaves.
The plant blossoms with small white fragrant flowers up to 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) wide with a splash of purple at the centre or lip. The flowers last only for a few hours.
Underground, the rhizomes that are used in cooking grow clustered together, looking vaguely like stubby fingers on a hand. Each one will be 1 to 2 1/2 inches (2 1/2 to 6 cm) long, with dark reddish brown skin with rings on it. Inside, it is white and soft.
When fresh, it is grated or crushed.
It can also be air-dried, or roasted, and used ground on its own or in spice mixes. Dried is available powdered, but is often sold in slices that you have to grind at home.
Kaempferia Galangal is used in China and in south-east Asia, particularly in Javanese and Balanese cooking. In China, it is used mainly in Szechuan, in its dried form.
It is not used in Indian cooking.
In Malay, very young leaves from the plant are shredded and used as an herb in some steamed dishes such as “nasi ulam.” In Thailand, very young leaves used raw.
In appears in the Indonesian sauce, “Sambal Kacang.”
Kaempferia Galangal has many folk-medicine applications throughout south-east Asia.
Native to south India.
Kaempferia Galangal is called “Cekur”, “Cekuh” or “kecil galanga” in Malay; “Kencur” or “Kentjoer” in Indonesia; “Ingurupiyali” or “Hingurupiyali” in Sri Lanka; “Proh hom”, “Hom proh”, “Waan teendin” or “Waan hom” in Thailand.
Sometimes Kaempferia Galangal is confusingly called “Lesser Galangal” or “Greater Galangal”, but those are names applied to other closely related plants.
There are also names in other languages referring to sand, such as German (“Sandingwer”) and Chinese (“Saa jiang”) .
The scientific name is in honour of German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651 to 1716.)