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Visitors walk through the trail at Sangnim, a forest in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang Province.
/ Korea Times photos by Yun Suh-young
By Yun Suh-young
HAMYANG ― Many of us are familiar with ginger but not so much with ginseng.
Ginger is even familiar to children in the West because of the gingerbread man character. In Korea, ginger is used a lot in making soup or porridge.
But ginseng is less close to our everyday lives mainly because it is not for everyday consumption. Not only that but it is also pretty expensive to be gulping down your throat in one swallow.
The price per one root of wild ginseng begins from 50,000 won and can double and triple depending on how old they are. The price soars while going through the distribution network, further making us hesitate to buy it.
There are two types of ginseng, wild and cultivated. The price of “sansam” or wild ginseng is much higher than “insam,” or panax ginseng cultivated on farms, mainly because they are hard to get.
Wild ginseng grows naturally and is harvested wherever it is found to be growing. It is relatively rare and is out of human reach most of the time which is why people began farming it.
In order to get wild ginseng, it must be picked from the mountains but because it is hard to detect it, people started planting ginseng seeds on farms. Human-cultivated ginseng is called “insam” where “in” in Korean means human. “San” in “sansam,” on the other hand, means mountain.
There is another type of ginseng which can be categorized in between the previous two categories. It is “sanyangsansam” which is sansam cultivated in the mountains with the help of human hands. Nevertheless, it is also called wild ginseng.
The efficacy of ginseng, whether it be insam or sansam, is basically the same.
Ginseng is known to strengthen the immune system and vitalize cognitive functions. It used to be traditionally known as an elixir but growers say it should not be perceived as a panacea. More research must be done on the herb to prove what effect it has on the human body.
Wild ginseng is expensive because it is rare and not many are found wholesome.
“If five roots survive out of 100 that were planted even after 10 years then that’s considered a successful cultivation,” says Kim Yu-no, president of the National Wild Ginseng Association.
Wild ginseng is most nutritious when it bears a red fruit. The harvest period begins in May and lasts through October at the latest but the best time to consume it is when the fruit is red. Also, experts say one root of ginseng must be consumed twice a day for three days to see the effects, although there are some exceptional people who see the effects after eating only one.
There are various places across the nation that cultivate wild ginseng and sells it. Hamyang is one of them and even holds a wild ginseng festival every year. The one being held this weekend is the 9th held by the county and is dubbed a “promising festival” by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Hamyang, located in South Gyeongsang Province, is famous for ginseng because it has historically been a home to ginseng. It is known that the first emperor of Qin Dynasty of China, Qin Shi Huang, even sent his liege to Korea to get his hands on wild ginseng when he was seeking the elixir of life. During the ancient Three Kingdoms period in Korea, Hamyang was the biggest producer of wild ginseng.
There used to be ginseng diggers called “simmani” until the 1990s in Hamyang and all over the nation who professionally dug up ginseng for living. There still are simmani but not as many as before.
These simmani see the ginseng as holy herbs and when they find a wild ginseng, they carry out a holy ritual. They shout “simbatta!” which is their own jargon for “I saw ginseng!” When the person who found the ginseng shouts “simbatta” three times, their colleagues bow down and wait until the person who found it carefully digs out the plant.
At the Hamyang Wild Ginseng Festival which is to be held from Thursday through Monday, visitors can experience being a simmani.
The participation fee is 20,000 won and the participants may take the ginseng home after digging them.
Participation for other activities at the festival is free of charge. There is no entrance fee and parking is also free.
The festival will be held in Sangnim, otherwise known as the “Thousand Year Forest,” which was apparently created by people 1,000 years ago.
At the festival, ginseng growers will be selling their self-cultivated wild ginseng at their own booth.
Those who want to shout out “simbatta!” or those who want get their hands on wild ginseng at market prices, visiting the Hamyang Wild Ginseng Festival held in a forest can be a cool getaway for the weekend.