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By Audrey

Hi and welcome to Korea. I'll be your tour guide today as we cross oceans, continents, and borders into a different culture to introduce to you, in a more intimate manner, the interesting facts that make Korea unique. On our first trip today, we'll take a look at the most expensive herb in the world, Korean ginseng. It is not only expensive, but also difficult to cultivate. Hence, the expensive price tag. Let's visit the ginseng farm for a little chat session with Mr. Kim.

Audrey: Good day, Mr. Kim. I've brought some visitors here today. We're all keen to learn more about ginseng. Perhaps you could start by giving us a brief background on the herb?
Mr. Kim: Ah…yes, of course. The Korean ginseng is actually a herb tonic used for over 2000 years in oriental countries. Reputed to be a mysterious medicine among people, the Korean ginseng is believed to be a tonic and prevention against various diseases. However, it is not regarded as a direct curing medicine. Its scientific name is Panax Ginseng C.A. Meyer. Of course, it's better known as the Korean ginseng.
Audrey: Where can we find this natural ginseng?
Mr. Kim: Natural ginseng are mostly found in the Far East region, which includes the Korean peninsula and places under the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere. As we're blessed with the optimal climate for growing ginseng, Korea has the reputation for being a mass producer and supplier of quality ginseng to the world today.
Audrey: No doubt about that. In fact, we've heard that Korean ginseng has the ability to strengthen one's immune system, lower high blood pressure, and purify the blood from toxin. Could you tell us more?
Mr. Kim: Well, old Chinese medicinal textbooks stated that Korean ginseng provides tonic advantages to the viscera such as the heart, lungs, digestive organs, liver, and kidneys. The Koreans also believe that ginseng has the capability to quiet one's spirits, 'establish' souls, expel fears, brighten eyes, open minds, and improve understanding. If taken for a sufficient amount of time, it will boost energy and prolong one's life span.
Audrey: Wow…this is very interesting. Do you have anything else to add to that?
Mr. Kim: Definitely. The benefits of ginseng can fill a book or should I say books? It is so good that it can normalize stress conditions, stimulate intestinal digestion, and increase physical and mental stamina. It is especially beneficial to those who are not in the best of physical conditions, those who lack vigor, those weakened by a disease or operation, and those whose hands and feet are always cold. For women, the Korean ginseng is best taken during and after pregnancy. And of course, diabetics, cancer sufferers and anemic patients would benefit greatly from the Korean ginseng.
Audrey: What a discovery! I never knew that the Korean ginseng could offer so many advantages. Isn't it great that its benefits have been extended to other cities in the world?
Everyone: Yeah!!!
Audrey: Mr. Kim, perhaps you could now tell us how it's cultivated?
Mr. Kim:

Of course. The cultivation of ginseng is actually quite different from other crops. Once it is cultivated, it cannot be re-cultivated in the same field for 15 years. The field must be carefully selected as the outcome depends on the nature of the soil and land. Korean ginseng is so popular that the field soil is prepared two years by tilling the soils repeatedly with fresh leaves such as oak.

Mr. Kim: Seedlings are also grown in specially prepared nursery bed soil. Korean ginseng must be grown under the shade without any application of chemical fertilizer. In short, ginseng cultivation is a structural farming that maintains the traditional organic farming practice. The direction of ridge is set by a compass to face northeast. It is important to cultivate the roots to its fullest capacity yet maintain a balance between the rhizome head, main root, and lateral roots.
Audrey: What does that mean?
Mr. Kim:

It refers to the shape of the ginseng. The Korean ginseng has a root system, which includes the rhizome head, main root and lateral roots. These three elements are where numerous fine roots develop. On the whole, the Korean ginseng has such a balanced shape that it resembles a human body. Let me show you what I mean…

Audrey: Ah…no wonder it's also called the 'man root'.
Mr. Kim: Yes, you are right.
Audrey: Well, it's sure difficult to cultivate ginseng.
Mr. Kim: Do you want to know the various growth stages of the Korean ginseng?
Audrey: Yes, please. I'm sure all of us here would be glad to obtain first hand information.
Mr. Kim:

OK… The shape of the ginseng changes as the root develops. In the first year, the main root develops with 30 to 40 lateral roots. These roots either fall off or are cut off while transplanting the following year. After transplantation in the second year, the lateral roots are re-grown. In the third year, the elongation of the main root and the number of lateral roots should both be growing well in length and volume.

The main root grows only in volume, thus forming the characteristic shape of Korean ginseng. A six-year-old ginseng has a 7 to 10 cm long main root and a diameter of 2 to 3 cm, with several lateral roots and a large rhizome head. This type of ginseng is used for making red ginseng. Its total length is about 34 cm and weigh between 40 to 120 g. In some cases, it can even weigh up to 300 g. It is not good for roots to grow more than 7 years. If it does, the roots would appear 'retarded' and ill shaped with woody skin. A higher rate of cavity or 'inside-white' will also occur after processing.

Korean ginseng is different from other ginseng cultivated in China, Japan, and North America. It takes as long as 6 years to cultivate Korean ginseng. In terms of ginsenoside, the Korean ginseng contains 22 kinds of ginsenoside while the others contain 8 to 9 types. Moreover, it contains anti-aging substances such as anti-oxidant and an insulin-like substance, which are not found in other types of ginseng. One need not fear poisoning or drug dependency effects like those often caused by others. Besides, its effects are always remedial. With the coming of modern science, many scientists have started investigating the effect of ginseng for the past two decades and it can now be proven that Korean ginseng is effective in several different ways.

Audrey: Hmm… interesting. By the way, how many types of ginseng are there?
Mr. Kim: There are two types. White Ginseng and Red Ginseng.
Audrey: And what's the difference between these two?
Mr. Kim: Well, the White Ginseng is naturally dried and is free from all manufacturing processes. On the other hand, the Red Ginseng is processed from White Ginseng. This is done by creating new components for the new ginseng while enhancing the effectiveness of the existing ones. Hence, Red Ginseng contains more beneficial components than White Ginseng. The latter also causes minor side effects such as headache and gastric disturbances.
Audrey: After listening to your description of the Korean ginseng, we now understand why the herb is so expensive.
Mr. Kim: Indeed, it is rather expensive. But you can get them from suppliers who charge a reasonable price for it. And they come in different forms, such as extracted concentrate or capsules and granulated tea. Do look around while you're in Korea.
Audrey: We sure would, Mr. Kim. Well, thank you so much for your time. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.
Mr. Kim: You're most welcome. I'm sure you'll find the Korean ginseng a true rarity with a strong list of advantages.

That's all for now. Thanks for joining me on WELCOME TO VIRTUAL TOUR. Do keep a lookout for new postings.

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