Ginseng jaunt gets to root of the matter

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Ginseng jaunt gets to root of the matter

Quick: What do the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the American baseball slugger Sammy Sosa have in common? Each has had a yen for Korean ginseng.

Rousseau gave Korean ginseng to one of his students in return for a pouch of valuable coffee; Mr. Clinton asked for a specially prepared ginseng dish when he visited Korea during his presidency. Mr. Sosa regularly eats honey-soaked ginseng as a health food. And were the three in Korea now, they'd probably want to go on a day trip Thursday to the peninsula's ginseng harvesting areas.

Arranged by the Korea Ginseng Corp., the ginseng-based tour is designed for expatriates. The excursion was timed to coincide with the ginseng harvest season, which runs from the end of September to mid-October. It will take in an area in North Chungcheong province, Jincheon, and one in South Chungcheong province, Buyeo.

In Jincheon, participants will get a first-hand look at the harvesting of ginseng; in Buyeo, the group will visit a factory that processes red ginseng. The event will be conducted in English, but the organizers say service in Chinese, Japanese, Thai and a bit of French is also available. And here comes the best part -- it's free.

Ginseng, the medicinal root that is often shaped like the human body, is a plant that is very particular about its soil. As well as Korean, there are American, Chinese and Japanese ginseng types. Korean soil in particular provides fine conditions for quality ginseng roots to grow and be used for varied medicinal uses. For centuries, ginseng's proponents have touted the root as the secret to eternal youth, and it is still a must at health food stores. And just about everything you want to know about ginseng can be learned in Jincheon, a small farming town in middle of the peninsula.

The day will start when participants board a bus in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul at 8:30 a.m. The ride to Jincheon will take two hours, after which a group of percussionists will greet the guests with the traditional music form nongak nori, or the farmers' dance. The first stop will be a photo exhibit showing the origins of ginseng and how it is processed for consumers.

Then it's time to get down and dirty. After a little instruction and a warm-up, participants will unearth ginseng roots with hoes and shovels, available at the site. The participants will each be alloted a small size of land for the task, during which they can grub as many ginseng roots as they can. After about 30 minutes, a contest for the best-looking ginseng root will be held. Then another contest will be held to see who can smile the best after eating a slice of raw ginseng.

Next will be a Western-style lunch, washed down with ginseng soda, tea and juice.

After lunch, the participants will head to Buyeo and the factory. Red ginseng, or hongsam, is said to prevent cancer and boost stamina and mental acuity, along with a long list of other benefits. At the factory, selected six-year-old ginseng roots are washed and steamed in a special container. After a hot-wind drying period, a solar-heat drying process follows, making the roots dark-brown and dehydrated. Visitors can watch the entire process.

The last stop will be a Korean dinner at a local restaurant, after which participants will board the bus for the ride back to Seoul.

One of the organizers, Grace Han, said that the tours to the ginseng-producing areas will be run every year, in time for the ginseng harvest season.

If you want to join the trip, call (02) 511-7457 by Monday.

by Chun Su-jin

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