Back to the Roots, Part 1 Galangal Root

This year Possets will be releasing fragrance blends which feature the ingredient(s) highlighted in blogposts like this one on galangal. Those blends can be found here.

Back to the Roots Pt. 1: Galangal

Awhile ago I wrote a about an essential oil that comes from an organic matter that is not a plant. This week I’ve decided to literally get back to the root of plant-based oils. This post marks the first in a series of spotlights on essential oils that are extracted from the roots of plants.

Act 1—galangal.

I have a friend who is getting her masters in art. Sometimes she likes to describe pieces by saying that they “look good/don’t look good to most people’s eyeballs,” implying that the subjectivity of perception interferes with the ability to actually determine anything as good, bad, or something in between. Discussing anything involving a person’s individual perception is like that, including perfumes and their ingredients. Citruses are generally citrusy, woods are generally woodsy, but beyond those obvious descriptors it’s so up to the individual to connect the scent with their own library of memories and associations, to find in it something meaningful and tangible to them.

For instance, when I smell galangal root, for some odd reason it reminds me of the scent of my grandpa, which I always noted when I would hug him. He was big and burly and chewed gum whenever he wasn’t eating. He’d buy packs of Extra gum by the box from Bigg’s, sometimes in Bubblemint but usually in Peppermint. He kept the packs of gum in his breast pocket, where he also kept the two one-dollar bills he was planning to give me and my brother at our departure. The minty smell was mixed with some ambiguous scent I can only picture as strong-old-man smell, probably a mixture of male-marketed bath products and the stubborn scent of old cigar smoke.

I have seen some people describe galangal root as being candy like and extra sweet, so I suppose it makes sense, then, that it reminds me essentially of a gum brand. It’s a spicy sort of sweet, so maybe the spicy notes are what correlate with the “masculine” part of my nostalgic scent.

Galangal root is in the same family as ginger and cardamon, known as Zingiberaceae, and it blends well with these oils and other deep, spicy scents like cinnamon. Like its sibling plants, galangal root is often used in cooking, particularly in Asia cuisines like Thai and Indonesian. It’s great in curries and spicy soups, and, like ginger, is good for digestion—just one of its many health benefits touted by some herbalists.

If you’re planning to cook with galangal, you’ll find that it looks almost identical to ginger root, but with a slightly paler skin. Maybe you’ll grab one instead of the other by mistake. The good news is that they usually work well as stand-ins for one another—though they’re certainly not identical in taste. Galangal is rather citrusy in comparison to ginger, the latter of which has more heat and pungency to its spice.

Fortunately there’s no real chance of mixing up galangal and ginger when you’re using their essential oils in neatly labeled bottles. As with ginger, galangal root is uplifting and pairs well with other bright scents too, like grapefruit. It’s an affordable essential oil that does well on its own whether on the skin or in a diffuser, but also blends nicely into many different perfume oils. I recommend trying it from all angles—in the kitchen, as a solo oil, or in a blend. Grab some galangal root from the store or order a little galangal essential oil and see where it takes you. Keep it around for a side-by-side comparison with the next root of this blog series. Possets has created two blends featuring Galangal Root. Kha Perfume Oil and Khulanjan Perfume Oil feature galangal root essential oil and can be found here: Kha and Khulanjan. Enjoy!

by Katrina Eresman