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Scorpions and Naomi Campbell say, “Korean ginseng is wonderful!”

In August, North Korea, which was suffering serious economic hardship due to shortage of cash, notified the Czech government that it would repay its debt with ginseng instead of cash. According to the news, North Korea proposed to repay USD500,000 of its USD10 million debt to the Czech Republic with ginseng.

Ginseng worth USD500,000 amounts to 20 tons. In the Cold Era, trades using goods occurred frequently between communist nations. The Czech government was reportedly considering approving of North Korea’s proposal. The Czech Republic imports 1.4 tons of ginseng a year from North Korea, and 20 tons will likely dominate or have a considerable share of the country’s health food market. This suggests that Korean ginseng is also a favorite health food in Europe.

Korean ginseng is a precious treasure of the Orient : Louis ⅩⅣ

Ginseng was widely known in the West at around the 16th century. The Travels of Marco Polo, published in 1299, describes the cultures and civilizations of China, other Asian nations, and the Middle East, but it does not mention ginseng. Until that time, ginseng, the mysterious herb of ginseng as a mysterious plant in 1575 by the Russian Catholic father Marchin Marchinius, who obtained it from China.

Ginseng thus spread to the upper classes in Europe by word of mouth. Given the record saying that a Thai envoy offered ginseng to Louis ⅩⅣ of France (reigned in 1613-1715), ginseng appeared to be treated preciously then in such continent. Louis ⅩⅣ, dubbed the king of the sun, turned France into the most powerful nation of Europe, and at that time, many nations in the Orient vied to send presents to him. One of such present, ginseng, was recognized as the treasure of the Orient.

Ginseng came to be known as a precious medicinal substance in the West via China. Korean ginseng, however, was introduced to the west in the early 17th century, when employees of the Netherlands’ East India Company reported the political situation in the Orient then to their country. In the report, trade director Kuker Bakker of East India Company, who was assigned to work in Japan, cited rice, copper, and ginseng as the representative native products of Joseon, and mentioned, “In one coastal area of Joseon, the people are trading with the Japanese.” This appears to have described ginseng trade with merchants from Tsushima Island, Japan, which was also actively conducted in Busan during the mid-Joseon-Dynasty period. Afterward, ginseng was occasionally made mention of in Europe via letters and travelogues. In 1711, however, ginseng experienced a turnaround.

Korean ginseng energizing the literary activities of Rousseau and Gorky

Ginseng did not become popular in the west but was exchanged as a treasure of the Orient among the upper classes. A ginseng-related episode involving philosopher and writer Rousseau (1716-1778) suggests how precious ginseng was at that time. Rousseau was active when the missionary Jartoux introduced Oriental ginseng to his country, leading it to be known as a mysterious herb among the upper classes in Europe. Rousseau’s disciple and literary man Bernardin de Saint-Pierre brought a bag of coffee beans in 1772 from Bluebon Island and sent it to Rousseau as a present. Bluebon coffee was a very precious present at that time. The modest Rousseau tried to return the present to his disciple because he did not want to accept such an expensive present. St. Pierre then proposed to Rousseau that he give him a present in return instead of returning the coffee that he had given him. Rousseau sent one root of ginseng to St. Pierre in return for the present. This shows that the mysterious Oriental ginseng was precious enough to match the value of St. Pierre’s expensive Blubon coffee present.

The great Russian writer Maxim Gorky (1808-1936) reportedly liked eating ginseng very much. Right after Gorky’s death, novelist Zamyatin, who was close to Gorky, wrote a commentary on Gorky’s works in Paris, France, where, after being branded a dissident by the Russian authorities, he obtained asylum in 1932 with the help of Gorky.

Zamyatin wondered about Gorky’s literary passion and mentioned an episode involving Gorky and ginseng. Zamyatin wondered how Gorky, a chain smoker who was suffering from tuberculosis, could write major literary works, sleeping for only a few hours a day. He wondered what the source of his energy was. Gorky took Zamyatin to his dining room in the basement, where he showed him a jar of ginseng juice. Gorky explained, “This is ginseng, which was sent to me from Manchuria by a person who respects me. I drink it regularly.”

Disseminating the value of Korean ginseng to the West : Missionary Jartoux

Missionary Jartoux from France, who was assigned to serve as a missionary in Beijing, china, made an observation tour of Joseon to produce maps at the behest of Kang His of Qing. In 1709, Jartoux was touring the Joseon-Qing border (Tartar and Manchuria regions) to collect topographical data when he came in contact with the Joseon people for the first time. At that time, ginseng was as precious as gold, and he had heard that ginseng, if discovered, should be offered to the Chinese emperor as a precious present. In April 1711, Jartoux sent a letter with illustrations of ginseng to his country. The following is an excerpt from such letter :

“We arrived at a village called Kalgara, where the people of Tartar lived. It was only 16km from Joseon. A person dug up four roots of wild ginseng from the mountain and brought these to us. The Chinese nobility mix wild ginseng with nearly all medicines… I ate half a root fresh, and one hour later, I felt my pulse and found it stronger. My appetite also improved, and my stamina became far better. As all these, however, might have been due to my relaxed state, I did not greatly value ginseng, but four days later, an official who noticed that I was too exhausted even to sit on my horse’s back gave me a ginseng root. I immediately ate half of it, and one hour later, my fatigue completely disappeared. Since then, I’ve been eating wild ginseng often, and I always experience the same effect.”

Jartoux also wrote in his letter the accurate location and vegetation environment of wild ginseng, stating that the mysterious herb should be cultivated in Europe. This letter was published in the London Royal Society Journal in U.K. In 1716, missionary Lafico, who was staying in an Indian village in Canada, read Jartoux’s letter and looked for ginseng together with a group of Indians. Three months later, the Indians found wild ginseng in the suburbs of Montreal. This is the origin of American ginseng. Today, wild ginseng is being harvested in North America, and ginseng is also being raised massively in Quebec, Canada and in Wisconsin, USA.

Korea’s ginseng power that touched world leaders Pope John Paul Ⅱ, French President Mitterrand, and the Japanese imperial household

A number of world-renowned people have taken ginseng to improve their health. Below is the testimony of Bae Yang-il, who served as the Korean ambassador to the Vatican early in 1999. In 1984, when Pope John Paul Ⅱ visited South Korea, Mr. Bae, who was an Air Force liaison officer at the Presidential Security Office, accompanied the pope aboard the president’s helicopter to tour him in Sorokdo, Gwangju, Daegu, and Busan. In 1999, after retiring from the Air Force as a lieutenant general, he was assigned as the Korean ambassador to the Vatican, which led him to develop a close relationship with the pope.
When Mr. Bae had an audience with the pope, he reminded the pope of his visit to South Korea in 1984, when he accompanied him on his tour, and the pope was very glad to have met him again. Since then, their friendship deepened. Mr. Bae elaborated on the pope’s ginseng-related episode.

“At that time, the pope was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and several other diseases. When I visited him once, I presented red-ginseng tea to him as a gift.
Afterwards, the bishop who served the pope hinted that the pope liked red ginseng very much. Thereafter, I occasionally sent the pope not only red-ginseng tea but also red-ginseng roots and extracts. As far as I know, former ambassadors also occasionally presented Korean ginseng to the pope. When I was serving my ambassadorship, he was much debilitated, so he might have needed Korean ginseng even much more.”


Pope John Paul Ⅱ’s preference for red ginseng spread by the word of mouth, triggering frenzy over red ginseng among the bishops of the Vatican and among many ambassadors residing in Rome. Even Vatican guards asked the Korean Embassy how they could get red ginseng.

In 1995, French President Mitterrand was diagnosed with cancer, and since then, he struggled with the disease. The medical team that attended to him hinted that the president would have only three months to live. Presidential doctor Philip de Qufer, upon hearing that Korean ginseng was helpful in treating cancer, reportedly got red ginseng from South Korea to make the president take it. Although President Mitterrand eventually succumbed to cancer, he was able to extend his life for more than six months, leading Korean ginseng’s anti-cancer efficacy to be known in Europe.

The December 1998 issue of the Japanese Weekly Shincho reported that the Imperial Household Agency placed an order for ginseng extracts – known to be effective against sperm deficiency – with North Korea via a health firm. At that time, Japanese emperor Akihito had two princes, Naruhito and Fumihito. The elder son, Naruhito, had no child in six years of marriage. This stirred problems regarding the succession to the crown in 1998. Crown princess Masako was already in the mid-30s, and Fumihito had only two daughters, leading the Japanese imperial household to be concerned that the emperor might not have a grandson for over 30 years. Thus, the imperial household purchased Korean ginseng massively from North Korea. Afterwards, on December 1, 2001, crown princess Masako gave birth to a baby girl for the first time in her 12 years of marriage. Fumihito also fathered a son in 2006. Thus, Korean ginseng helped the Japanese imperial household continue its lineage-based succession.

secret behind fantastic music and body : Scorpions and Naomi Campbell

One will be hard- pressed to find top stars who have an affection for Korean ginseng. Germany’s legendary rock group Scorpions, who made heavy-metal fans go mad, praised ginseng. To celebrate their 30-year anniversary as a group and to promote their first unplugged album, Scorpions visited South Korea in 2001.
When asked at a news conference at the airport what would first come to their minds when speaking of South Korea, without hesitation, they said “Korean ginseng, and feeling strong with it.” This drew enthusiastic applause from their Korean fans.

Scorpions is a world-renowned rock group widely known for its hit “Still Loving You.” A member of the group, Klaus Meine, joked, “Whenever I visit South Korea, I make sure to buy ginseng. When I’ve exhausted my supply, I should come back to South Korea.” Here, he showed his affection for South Korea. Scorpions debuted in 1972, and all its members are now past 60 years old, but they performed quite actively, showing great stamina. Last April, however, they officially announced that they were disbanding, leaving their many fans sorry. The secret to the long life of their group, however, might be the power and energy brought forth by ginseng.

The world’s top model Naomi Campbell is a ginseng fan. In 2003, when she visited Seoul to attend a fashion show, she was asked by news reporters about the secret behind her beautiful skin and body despite the fact that she was already in her 30s then. Without hesitation, she replied, “Ginseng juice,” surprising many people. She said that she frequently drank ginseng juice. Naomi, who was known for her unusual acts, requested the hotel in Seoul where she was staying to decorate the whole deluxe room with a specific color, and asked the staff to bring the menus from all the restaurants in the hotel to her room so she could choose the food that she would order from all of them. As such, she triggered many episodes.

The event host team prepared and stored ginseng beverages in the refrigerator of the hotel room where Campbell was staying. She might know that Hwang Jin-hui, a beauty icon from the Joseon period, bathed with leaves of ginseng produced in Gaeseong, and used cosmetics based on these. Her elastic and beautiful skin reminds us of ginseng’s skin beauty effect.

sTake Korean ginseng, give birth to a child, and continue to win : Callaway and Dontae Jones

Many foreign professional baseball and basketball players are taking ginseng. As a member of the professional baseball club Hyundai Unicorns from 2005 to 2007, Mickey Callaway experienced the efficacy of Korean ginseng. A former American Major League pitcher, he was married in 2002 but was concerned about not having a child. He tried to help his wife with pregnancy in the United States, but in vain. In 2005, his services were acquired by the Korean professional baseball league. He thus went to South Korea and settled in Seoul with his wife. His wife eventually became pregnant.

The Callaway couple frequently recalled, “Pitcher Jo Yong-jun in the club greatly helped us have a child.” Callaway was a close friend of Jo, and Jo, a great lover of ginseng, advised him to take ginseng to boost his physical strength. Callaway reluctantly took ginseng regularly and eventually felt his stamina improve. He finally fathered a baby.

Callaway said, “Jo Yong-jun gave me a lot of ginseng beverages. I drank them all and felt my physical strength improving. Finally, I was able to sire a baby.” He called Jo the “godfather” of his child.

In addition to Callaway, many other foreign players in professional baseball clubs are taking red ginseng. Dontae Jones, a member of the professional baseball club Anyang KT&G Kites, is an ardent fan of red ginseng. He particularly likes red-ginseng capsules. Jones, who has had 15 consecutive wins in the professional baseball history, boasts outstanding jump power and physical strength. He claims that his stamina was greatly bolstered by Korean ginseng.

Professional baseball clubs still feed red ginseng to their foreign players to bolster their physical strength. When they return to their home countries or move to other foreign baseball clubs, they will witness the surprising efficacy of ginseng and will thus further promote it widely.

“Korean ginseng and me” as viewed by foreigners Energetic activities in South Korea, thanks to ginseng

  • 1. A Finnish on a KBS talk show : Taru

    “Every morning, I mix red ginseng with warm water and drink it. It helps me ward off colds and strengthen my immunity. I got red-ginseng extracts as a gift, and I’m worried about using them up as they’re so expensive.”

    Taru Salminen (33, Finland) of the KBS 1TV talk show dubbed “Pleasant Korea Misuda,” loves ginseng more than the Koreans do. She personally boils ginseng roots and makes ginseng tea. She likes samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng) and red-ginseng extracts. She has tried different food preparations with ginseng, such as dried ginseng, ginseng liquor, and wild-ginseng Korean rice wine. She enjoys red ginseng more than all other ginseng types. She said that when she first tasted ginseng, she found it slightly bitter, but it had a healthy taste.

    “Although I had known about ginseng before I came to South Korea, I had not tried it. In Finland, ginseng has the strong image of a medicinal herb.”

    She said that ginseng is believed to strengthen a person’s immunity, and she related the following anecdote involving ginseng. Seven years ago, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She took ginseng regularly and found her health improving much.

    “I gave my mom ginseng and red-ginseng extracts and tablets, which helped her with her treatment. She received radiation but did not lose much hair, probably due to her regular ginseng intake.”

    Her mother, now completely healed, still takes red-ginseng tablets.
    As her maternal uncle and aunt also like ginseng, whenever she goes to Finland, she brings ginseng tea as a gift to them. Once, she brought ginseng roots and brewed these for ten hours, making tea for them. This shows that she is an ardent fan of ginseng. She went to South Korea 12 years ago as an exchange student and is now opening a Korean wine bar dubbed Taru Jumak, which will serve ginseng foods.

    “Finland classified ginseng as a drug product, so I need permission to carry it from South Korea to Finland. Once, I received red-ginseng extracts and tablets from the president of a Korean firm, and I carried them to Finland. The customs people confiscated them (laughing).”

  • 2. A Gyeonggi council member from Mongolia : Ira

    In the June 2 provincial elections, Ira (33) from Mongolia was elected as a Gyeonggi-do council member under a proportional representation system, the first of its kind in the world. The country’s no. 1 multicultural politician enjoys drinking ginseng tea.

    “In Mongolia, I heard about ginseng but never bought and ate it. I just knew it was good for the health.”

    In South Korea, she tasted ginseng for the first time. When she first ate samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng), she ate it with gusto because it was good for the health. She has been a naturalized Korean for seven years. Council woman Ira now enjoys a cup of ginseng tea leisurely. She also frequently eats ginseng foods while carrying out her political activities and while serving her family as a wife and mother.

    “I am not yet a good ginseng food cook, but as ginseng promotes good health and strengthens the immune system, I should pay attention to it.”

    She said that the interest in ginseng is also already increasing in Mongolia, but ginseng is recognized more as a medicine there. She often sends ginseng products to her parents in Mongolia.

    “They like ginseng very much. I sent them only ginseng tea and no other ginseng product, and they said that they felt energized just by drinking the ginseng tea.”

    She wishes that Korea’s Korean ginseng would be more widely known. According to her, although the Mongolians’ interest in ginseng is increasing, it is actually Chinese and not Korean ginseng that is currently domination the Mongolian market.

    “Korean ginseng has far better quality than foreign ginseng tea. As such, I hope that Korean ginseng will be more widely promoted to help boost the health of people all over the world.”

  • 3. Australian comedian : Sam Hammington

    “When I first bit into ginseng, it smelled like earth. This made me think twice about eating it. As I’ve heard, however, that ginseng is good for the health, I eat it frequently even though I find it hard to do so. I feel energized whenever I eat it.”

    I met foreign comedian no. 1 Sam Hammington (33) in South Korea at a samgyetang restaurant in Myeong-dong, Seoul. One of the reasons that he eats samgyetang is that it contains ginseng. He enjoys eating the health food samgyetang while sweating and sitting cross-legged. In 1998, he went to South Korea as an exchange student at Korea University. He fell in love with the country and thus settled therein in 2002. He appeared in the KBS comedian concert “World News Corner,” and in other shows, becoming a popular star. He is now emceeing the popular program “Drive Time of the English Radio TBS eFM.” He first tasted ginseng when he ate samgyetang soup. He removed the ginseng pieces from the soup and put them on the table.

    “I thought that ginseng was a decoration. One day, while I was eating samgyetang with a Korean friend, he scolded me lightly for removing the ginseng pieces from the soup, which I did because I was ignorant of what it was. He ate them all.”

    Hammington eats samgyetang primarily because it’s chicken, but he also eats it because it has ginseng in it. He knew later that ginseng is a good health food. He said, “I eat ginseng particularly because it’s good for the male stamina (laughing).” As he enjoys the wild American football, ginseng must be a tonic to him.

    “Foreign tourists form long queues to buy ginseng sets because it is a healthy food choice. Once, I was touched when I received a ginseng set.”

    He read the story in a book where a Korean resident in Japan gave 300-year-old wild ginseng to his family, leaving for North Korea to obtain favors from the NK officials. He then came to know much the Koreans love ginseng, particularly wild ginseng. He had some anecdotes about ginseng. When he first came to South Korea, he was often deceived by his playful Korean friends, who pulled pranks on him.

    When he bit into a delicious candy, as his Korean friends told him to, he was surprised by its bitter taste (ginseng taste). He also exclaimed, “Ginseng can be made into candies and soaps, and its diverse applications surprised me.” He marveled at the ginseng resembling a human figure. He said, “Ginseng in photos posted on the Internet resembles a human figure, which drew my interest (laughing).”

    “A growing number of health-conscious foreigners are looking for ginseng, but I see a need for more publicity activities. Foreigners living alone in South Korea have difficulty taking care of their health. I advise them to take ginseng to improve their health.”

* Source: Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in KOREA / Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation

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