Hildegard, Heart and Galangal

Michael DeBakey

Shortly before Dr. Michael DeBakey’s 100th birthday he wanted to hold a symposium in Houston with his fellow doctors to introduce them to Hildegard medicine. He himself had experienced the healing of a chest wound, which had been infected for almost 2 years with hospital bacteria. By applying a yarrow compress several times a day, as Hildegard describes, and in addition drinking yarrow tea daily the wound finally healed and closed over. Through a spelt diet he was also cured of a life-threatening diarrhea. In addition he had found that galangal made his heart strong. According to Dr. DeBakey 70% of all heart attack patients die in the first few hours after a massive myocardiac infarction. Unfortunately nobody knows that galangal can help immediately and often prevent death.

Galanga – a drug that prevents heart attack

galgant-01Galangal, Lesser - Alpinia officinarum

There are numerous plants belonging to the same botanical family that have been called lesser galangal. It is easy to be misled because common names are practically interchangeable. No great harm will be done by using one rhizome instead of the other since none of them are noxious. However, the flavour will be different. Among the plants that are sometimes mistaken for lesser galangal are Kaempferia galanga (see GINGER, AROMATIC) and Boesenbergia pandurata (see KRACHAI).

Lesser galangal was used in Europe in mediaeval times, and mentioned in the writings of Arabic physicians Rhazes and Avicenna. It was first recorded by Ibn Khurdadbah in 869, who listed it as an article of trade from the Far East. It was commonly used as a culinary spice together with cloves, nutmeg and ginger, but the plant itself was not described until 1870, when it was named for Prosper Alpinus.

Galangal – a drug to prevent heart attack

galgant-02Galangal minor, Alpina officinarum Hance, is botanically closely related to ginger. On his trips Marco Polo described plantations of galangal in the province Kachanfu and by Tonkin. Originally galangal grew in Southern China and Thailand. But today it is found in all of Indonesia, Australia, Japan, East India and even in Central America on the Antilles Islands.

The branching roots are robust and spread in all directions creating many stems. The stems with their white fragrant blossoms grow 60 to 150 cm. high.

In the 16th century Dr. Mattioli wrote: „Galangal freshens the breath, supports digestion and rids the body of unpleasant gas." This indication has been reinforced by modern science and led to its acceptance and official approval as a medicine. Similar results were discovered by Paracelsus.

The abbess Hildegard of Bingen described galangal as a heart medicine: "Whoever has pain in the heart area or is suffering weakness due to the heart, should immediately eat enough galangal and he will recover." As in other cases Hildegard's indication is completely different from the medical knowledge of her time, which proves that she did not compile the medical knowledge from the cloisters of her era into her works.

The galangal root contains essential oil and resin that cause the hot-bitter taste. Galangal is also rich in bioflavonoids, which are only found in genuine galangal with its characteristic sharp biting taste. Galangal oil (Oleum Galangae) is distilled from the dry powdered root. It is a yellow liquid with a eucalyptus-cardamon-ginger smell. The dried root contains .5 - 1.5% essential oil which has 81 various constituents all of which have been identified by gas chromatograph techniques. Besides oil 6 other sharp ingredients have been isolated and identified.