On the Source of the Radix Galangae Minoris of Pharmacologists.
By HENRY FLETCHER HANCE, PH. D., &c.
(Reprint from the Linnaean Society's Journal, xiii, communicated to the Amer. Journ. Pharm.)
Whilst it is, I believe, fully established that the "Greater Galangal" is produced by Alpinia Galanga, L., the plant which yields the lesser kind has hitherto remained altogether doubtful, though some writers have hazarded the opinion that it is the rhizome of A. chinensis, Rose. It is now more than twelve years since my attention was first drawn to the subject by my esteemed correspondent, Mr. Daniel Hanbury, who begged me, if possible, to set the question at rest.
I have never lost sight of Mr. Hanbury's wishes; but, although the drug forms a considerable article of export from Southern China, (Galangal is not used in British medical practice; and, even on the Continent, Endlicher speaks of it as "exoleti fere usus." The following statement of the export of this drug during the last three years is compiled from the official returns published by the Foreign Inspectorate of Maritime Customs, the quantities and value being, however, for greater convenience, reduced to British weight and currency:
|Years.||From Canton.||From Shanghae.||Total.|
From this table it would appear that the demand for Galangal is increasing; but I cannot explain why the export of a product of the extreme south of China should be transferred from Canton (the nearest port) to Shanghae, situated 8° further north.) my want of success will not seem surprising when it is borne in mind that many vegetable products shipped from Canton come from distant parts of the empire, and pass through a number of hands before they reach those of the native merchants, and that these latter are quite incapable of comprehending the interest attaching to the solution of a doubtful scientific point, or of troubling themselves about what seem to them matters of aimless and puerile curiosity. Those who have tried know well how difficult it is to get reliable information from the natives, who will frequently invent answers, rather than seem ignorant, and are especially prone to reply in the affirmative to direct or leading questions, as if they supposed the object of an inquirer was rather to obtain the confirmation of his own views than to elicit the truth.
In November, 1867, I had the opportunity of making a visit—at the invitation of, and in company with, the Commissioner of Maritime Customs at Canton—to the Island of Haenan. During this excursion, and while at anchor off Pak-shá, a fishing-village on the south coast of Kwangtung, about seventeen miles from, and rather to the east of, Hoi-haù, on the north coast of Haenan, we landed, and some of the party went about six miles inland to a ruinous walled city named Hoi-on; but, being slightly indisposed, I preferred botanizing over the low hills near the coast. On their return, Mr. Sampson, who was one of the party, informed me that they had seen a large quantity of what he took for ginger (but which he described as bearing the inflorescence on the leafy stems) under cultivation; and another gentleman produced—asking if I knew what it was—some pieces of rhizome, of which quantities had been passed, exposed to the sun in shallow bamboo baskets to dry. This I immediately identified as Galangal; and as some inquiries made of a linguist who had accompanied them left no doubt that the rhizome belonged to the plant seen growing, I had the mortification of knowing that the true Galangal plant had been met with, and no specimens obtained, whilst our arrangements did not admit of further delay.
Fortunately, however, at the close of the year, another expedition to Haenan was planned; and on this occasion Mr. E. C. Taintor, an American gentleman in the service of the Imperial Customs, to whom I was indebted for the specimens of the Oaks on which the North Chinese wild silkworm is fed, respecting which I have already communicated a paper to the Society, accompanied it. Mr. Sampson took great pains to indicate to Mr. Taintor the locality where the plant had been seen; and I am happy to say that Mr. Taintor's researches were crowned with complete success, he having brought back fine living plants with the rhizomes' attached, an examination of which, and comparison with authentic specimens of the drug from Mr. Hanbury and others, procured here, leave no doubt whatever of the species being the true officinal one.
The following account from Mr. Taintor's notes will explain how he obtained the plant: "The locality is about one mile north of the small village of Tung-sai, situated upon the Bay of Pak-shá, at the southern extremity of the peninsula of Lui-chau-fú, or Lei-chau-fú, and directly opposite Hoi-haú, the port of Kiung-chau-fú in Haenan. The plant was growing at an elevation of about 100 feet above the level of the sea, in a very dry, hard, red soil, evidently composed of disintegrated volcanic rock, The plant grew in masses, which had been originally planted and cultivated, but were now apparently neglected and running to waste. The roots were in dense masses of sometimes more than one foot diameter, and with as many as twenty-five or thirty stalks springing from each. Rarely more than one or two of these stalks, however, bore flowers at the date of collection, January 5th. My plan, to insure that I was getting the real plant, was to write the two characters Liang-kiang, (mild or gentle ginger, the Chinese name), and tell an intelligent-looking villager that I wanted to see the flower. He led me, without the least hesitation, directly to the spot where I obtained the plants."
I must add that Mr. Swinhoe has since found the plant growing wild in dense jungle on the south coast of Haenan, one of his specimens being now before me, and that he has informed Mr. Hanbury, as I quite recently learnt from that gentleman, that there is a good reason for believing that its fruit is the Bitter-seeded Cardamom, figured in Mr. Hanbury's valuable paper (Pharm. Journ. xiv, 418, fig. 8.) "On some rare kinds of Cardamom."
In endeavoring to determine the specimens collected by Mr. Taintor, I found in my herbarium, for the purpose of comparison, only the Hongkong species of Alpinia, and a few Moluccan ones, received from M. Teijsmann, of the Buitenzorg Garden; whilst, as regards books, I was restricted to Roxburgh's "Flora Indica," the writings of Wight and Miquel, and the very useful "Prodromus Monographiae Scitaminearum" of Prof. Horaninow, published at St. Petersburg in 1862. With these somewhat slender adminicula, I was soon satisfied that the Galangal was either referable or else very closely allied to A. calcarata, Rosc..which Roxburgh states to have been introduced from China into the Calcutta garden); and though I found some discrepancies between the Kwangtung specimens and the description of A. calcarata drawn up from the living plant by Roxburgh, (Flora Indica, ed. Carey, vol. 1, p. 69.) whose accuracy is so well known, yet these were apparently so few and unimportant that my chief ground of hesitation as to their identity was the extreme improbability that the rhizome of a plant widely cultivated within the tropics, and growing and flowering luxuriantly in the Calcutta and also, according to Thwaites, (Enum. Pl. Zeyl. p. 320.) in the Peradenia garden, should have remained for so long a period unrecognized, if really the same as the Lesser Galangal of commerce.
It being evident that this question, of so much interest in itself, could not be solved with the means at hand, whilst an approximate judgment would be valueless, I determined to let the matter lie over until I had access to more complete materials.
Since then I have received, through the kindness of Mr. Hanbury, a sketch, with a single flower colored, of the plate of A. calcarata, given in Roscoe's "Scitamineae," and a full-colored copy of that in the second volume of the "Botanical Register;" whilst my ever liberal friend, Dr. Thwaites, has sent me living rhizomes of the same species, whence have been reared fine healthy plants, though they have not as yet flowered, and, besides, copious specimens both of the flowering plant for the herbarium, and of the dried mature rhizomes. Mr. Taintor's Galangal plants have also again blossomed under culture., but set no fruit; (Zingiberaceous plants, when under cultivation, even in localities where they are native, are far less disposed to fruit than the same species in a wild state, the flowers usually dropping off as soon as they fade.) so that fresh flowering specimens of A. calcarata, and fruit of both species being alone wanting, I may claim to have had at my disposal as good materials for comparison as ordinarily fall to the lot of a descriptive botanist. I have, to the best of my ability, made a careful and exact comparative examination of living flowerless plants of each kind (including the rhizome), and of the mature rhizome of each; whilst I have compared the fresh and also the dried flowering plant of the Galangal with separate dried flowers, as well as herbarium specimens of the entire inflorescence of A. calcarata. The result is, that I am now entirely satisfied that the plant which furnishes the Lesser Galangal root is, though very closely allied to Alpinia calcarata, Roscoe, a perfectly distinct and well-defined species, the two differing in several particulars of structure, as well as in sensible qualities, as the following brief comparative notes will show:
Dried mature rhizomes chestnut-brown (Described by Roxburgh as somewhat wooly and pale-colored. Dr. Thwaites and myself find them perfectly smooth, both when young and at full growth. The young fresh rhizomes or both plants are quite white and succulent; but these can scarcely be alluded to: again, some dried rhizomes kindly supplied from the Calcutta garden are cinnamon-colored; but these are of small diameter, and evidently immature. The full-grown ones from Ceylon are, as described, of a chestnut hue externally.), conspicuously furrowed longitudinally; when cut across, with a stronger odor than Galangal, the cut surface remaining of a fuscous hue; of a bitter aromatic taste, much like cardamoms, with a distinct flavor of rhubarb superadded, but destitute of heat. Sheaths and bases of the young living stems or shoots more or less tinged with pink; tasting somewhat like rhubarb, but without any hot flavor. Leaves of a full deep green; aromatic, but not hot in taste. Ligulae 3-6 lines long, rounded or truncate, and frequently bifid at apex. Racemes compound (So described by Roxburgh, and so I find them in all Dr. Thwaites's specimens; but represented as simple in Wight's plate (Ic. Pl. Ind. Or. vi, 2028) and also apparently by Roscoe, and in the " Botanical Register."). Flowers with an oblong concave bractlet at their base (Described by Roxburgh as "solitary, boat-shaped, white, 1-flowered," and shown in the Bot. Reg. plate, and also (so far as I can make out from the sketch) in that in Roscoe, but omitted in Wight's figure. Quite conspicuous in all Dr. Thwaites's specimens.). Labellum "yellowish, minutely punctated with dull red, and with veins of a deep dull red color" (Thw.) (Roxburgh describes the labellum as "deeply colored with dark purple veins on a yellow ground." The Bot. Reg. plate represents it as crimson in the centre, with a broad yellow border, into which veins from the centre run, though not very conspicuously; whilst my copy of Roscoe's figure gives an oblong yellow centre dotted with crimson, and a broader margin striated with red and yellow, the latter color slightly predominating. Considering the variation in color of the flowers of Canna, and the differences of shade and marking in the labella of many cultivated epiphytes of the allied order Orchidaceae, it is perhaps unsafe to attach any considerable weight to a character of this kind.), its veins thickish.
Dried mature rhizomes externally rufous-brown, only very finely striated longitudinally; when cut across, surface becoming rufous; aromatic and very warm in taste, as if made up of ginger and pepper, with a recognizable camphoraceous flavor, leaving a powerful sensation of heat in the mouth when chewed (Caesalpinus characterizes the rhizome very accurately, though briefly, as "subrufa intus et extra, sapore Piperis, modice odorata" (De Plant. lib. iv. e. 62).). Bases of young shoots white; tasting very warm. Leaves of a rather lighter green; hot in taste. Ligulae 9-15 lines long, acutish. Racemes quite simple. Flowers without a bractlet. Labellum without the slightest trace of yellow, its veins very fine.
The fruits of both species, when known, may afford other marks of distinction.
A description of the Lesser Galangal plant, for which I propose the name of Alpinia officinarum, drawn up very carefully from living specimens, may fitly bring these notes to a close:
ALPINIA OFFICINARUM, n. sp. (snip lots of Latin.)
British Vice-Consulate, Whampoa, Sept., 1870.