Gardens to Jazz Up Your Taste Buds

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Gardens to Jazz Up Your Taste Buds

Nasturtium, lavender, rosemary, borage, thyme, daisy and holly basil; These are some of the herbs we use for cooking or curing - or simply for their aroma. Used for centuries, different herbs are believed to have different useful properties, and some feature in legends. Nasturtium flowers annually and symbolizes cleanliness. It is said that lavender, which symbolizes purity, gained its beautiful fragrance when Virgin Mary had dried baby Jesus' clothes on a lavender bush. Rosemary is thought to stimulate blood circulation and is a good base for liquor. It is believed thyme was created from tears shed by Helen of Troy. Holly basil was used in the mummification process in ancient Egypt; Egyptians believed that the plant was the key to the door of heaven.

All these herbs and more are found in the greenhouse that belongs to Herbs Farm in Wonpyeong village, Kyonggi province. The greenhouse, covering an area of over 1,650 square meters, is full of the sweet aroma emanating from the 80 different kinds of herbs cultivated inside. The smell is so strong that it makes some visitors to the farm dizzy, though most find it very refreshing.

"I am fascinated by the aroma of the herbs," said Sin Ji-won, a college student making his first trip to an herb farm. Mr. Sin found out about the farm on the Internet. Choe Myeong-sun, another visitor, mentioned, "It feels great to spend a day with my daughter, looking at the herbs and smelling the sweet flowers." Strolling around the farm while sipping a cup of tea made from an infusion of herbs picked at the farm can take all your stress away.

Herbs include all kinds of edible plants, often aromatic, used in medicines or as seasoning. According to Lee Jong-noh, the owner of Herbs Farm, many Korean people think of herbs as something imported from abroad. In fact, Korea has its own herbs, he said. "Ginseng (insam) or Chinese matrimony vine (gugija) can be categorized as herbs," said Mr. Lee. Other plants familiar to Koreans such as mugwort (ssuk), dandelion (mindeulrae) and sweet flag (changpo) are also herbs suitable for medicines or cookery.

Mr. Lee fell in love with herbs five years ago when he took his first horticulture class. He considered studying further after completing the graduate course at the school of horticultural science at Korea University, but instead became a professional farmer because he wanted to grow herbs and study the plants himself. He emphasized that herbs, often used to make soaps, shampoos, oils, salts and perfumes, also have many side benefits."

Some popular products at Mr. Lee's herb farm include an air freshener made using only natural herbs and a fresh herb basket arranged as a miniature garden. Visitors to the farm can buy a fresh herb basket made on the spot for the cost of the materials alone, at 20,000 won (about $15). Mr. Lee is currently offering memberships to those who want to cultivate herbs for themselves during the weekend. Members of his "weekend farm" can lease a 3.3-square-meter plot for 100,000 won.

The herb business in Korea has grown recently, but lags behind Japan's in size. Korea also lacks Japan's interest in herbs. It is believed that lavender was brought to Hokkaido in 1940 and "aroma tours" - travel programs that include visits to an herb farm - have been popular in Japan since the 1980s. There are over 300 herb farms in Japan, and the 600 herbs cultivated on Herb Island in the Chiba area make it a tourist attraction. Every year, over 200,000 people visit Herb Island.

Herb Land in Oecheon-ri, North Chungchong province

Of the few herb farms in Korea, Herb Land was the first, opening in 1988. This herb farm boasts a huge greenhouse of about 13,200 square meters, and an outdoor farm of over 33,000 square meters. Members (3,000 won) can enjoy the benefit of free admission for two years. Family membership holders (20,000 won) can get a 10 percent discount on the farm's herb products for two years. For more information, call 043-275-1844, or visit their Web site at (Korean service only)

Herb Nara in Heungjeong-ri, Kangwon province

Herb Nara, situated in a valley, has a gift shop, restaurant and accommodations. The lodge, which resembles an elegant European summer house, has six rooms, each equipped with a kitchen, a bathroom, and barbecue facilities on the terrace. A room for two people is 60,000 won per night and a room for four people 80,000 won. Admission to the farm, open between between May and October, is 2,000 won for adults or 1,000 won for children. For more information, call 033-335-2902 or visit their Web site at (Korean service only).

Herb Island in Samjeong-ri, Kyonggi province

Herb Island, northeast of Seoul, has a big outdoor garden, a small pond and greenhouse. It is a good place to walk around and learn about herb crafts. A group of 10 or more visitors can take lessons in making soap or hair conditioner. The lessons are free apart from the cost of materials. Admission to the farm is free. For more information, call 031-535-6494 or visit their Web site at (Korean service only).

Herbs Farm in Wonpyeong-ri, Kyonggi province

Herbs Farm is perhaps the herb farm most convenient to southern Seoul. The farm also runs one of the finest Web sites on herbs in Korea. The site is very popular, averaging 500 to 600 visitors per day. For more information, call 031-294-0088 or visit at (Korean service only).

by Kim Sae-joon

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