If You're Out Looking for Ginseng, All Roots Lead to Geumsan

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If You're Out Looking for Ginseng, All Roots Lead to Geumsan

Legend has it that about 1,500 years ago in Geumsan county, South Chungchong province, there lived a man who took especially good care of his sick mother. One day, he went into a cave located deep in Mount Jinak to pray for his mother's recovery. The god of the mountain took pity on the man and gave him insam or a ginseng root, to cure his mother. The man later planted the miraculous herb in a place called Gaesamteo, which became known as the first place ginseng was cultivated in Korea.

Every September, the Geumsan Insam Festival is held to promote locally grown ginseng. The festival grew out of the local tradition of Sansinje, or ritual offerings to the mountain god, for a rich ginseng harvest. This year the festival will be held from Friday to Sept. 23.

The event will begin at 1 a.m. Saturday with a ritual prayer to the god of Mount Jinak for the success of the festival and a good harvest. Then at 9 a.m. another ritual, Gaesamje, will honor the mythological man who first cultivated ginseng.

The festival will then go into full swing with various celebratory folk events. There will be many traditional musical performances including nong-ak-nori, played by traditional peasant bands and mulpegi-nong-yo, traditional songs that local farmers used to sing in the fields. Plays based on folklore and fairy tales, called madanggeuk, will be among the daily highlights. Also worthwhile is a rain ceremony, nongbau-kkeusigi, performed by 100 local women, scheduled for Sept. 23.

The ginseng festival has something for everybody, including kids young and old with an itch for active participation. You can take a trip out to the Insampo ginseng fields and dig up ginseng; the county will offer a little more than three square meters of land to each visitor to dig away. Anything found can be kept at a low cost. Hoes and gloves will be provided, but remember to wear sneakers and comfortable clothes. A free and frequent shuttle bus service between the festival complex and Insampo will run every day.

If you just want to enjoy the sweet and bitter tastes of ginseng without getting dirty, you can join a hands-on cooking class. This is a chance to find out more about ginseng, which is mostly known for its medicinal value. You can make your own Korean-style ginseng pancake or a glass of yogurt for 2,000 won (about $1.50) or 3,000 won. More than 50 different recipes for ginseng cuisine will be available.

If you are one of those artsy people, the festival is a place where you can show your stuff. You can make a beautiful souvenir by choosing one among various bottles and filling it with the Korean liquor soju, and ginseng roots. The cost of the creation will be 10,000 won to 25,000 won, depending on the size of the bottle. You can take the completed bottle home as a souvenir from the festival.

Visitors to the festival can get a free physical check-up at the Dong-ui-bogam clinic in the Insam Complex Exhibition Hall between Tuesday and Sept. 22. Oriental medicine doctors will give medical advice and prescribe proper ways to take ginseng, which vary according to the individual. Because the program, organized by the county's health center, was so popular last year, there will be another clinic this year exclusively for foreign visitors at the Insamgol Wedding Center. Also, people who get prescriptions from the doctors can buy the necessary ingredients to fill them at the local market during the festival at prices 30 to 40 percent lower than usual.

For more information, click on www.insamfestival.co.kr (English available) or call 041-750-2225 (English available).

by Lee Sang-min

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