Korean Language Blog

Insam (인삼) Posted by on Dec 14, 2008 in Korean Language

As the cold season rolls around, I’m finding that I’m no longer immune to catching a cold.  I guess I’m getting older!  Of course I’ve been taking some cold medicine but this cold has been really persistent.  Maybe I’ll switch back to some traditional Korean medicine.  In Korea, insam (인삼) or ginseng is a popular remedy for curing the common cold.  Insam (인삼) is used for many different purposes.  Let me tell you about some common ways Koreans use insam (인삼) or ginseng.

First off, for those of you who haven’t even seen a ginseng root, it’s a plant dug up from the ground.  Some have leaves and sometimes the leaves are used in medicinal concoctions as well.  Most of time it’s the root that matters though.  In Korea, a red ginseng called hongsam (홍삼) is commonly used to cure benign cancer.  Hongsam (홍삼) is a little different from the American variety found in the U.S.  Most places in Chinatown have a herbal shop where you can find the American variety in abundance.

If you want a nice hot cup of tea, try some insam-cha (인삼차) or ginseng tea.  The hongsam (홍삼) is usually steamed then boiled in water.  Next, honey and sugar is added to the water to reduce the bitterness of the ginseng.  Insam-cha (인삼차) is good for maintaining the immune system, reducing constipation and curing colds.  The only bad thing about it is that you might be up all night because it.  If drunk in large quantities, it can produce insomnia.

Some American mothers will make chicken soup to cure the common cold.  Similarly, Korean mothers will also make a type of chicken-ginseng soup called sam-ke-tang (삼계탕).  Sam-ke-tang (삼계탕) is made from dried ginseng boiled in water.  You add salt, pepper, and some green onions.  I like to add rice to my soup, but it’s not necessary.  In addition to the ginseng, I’ve seen people put some other medicinal plants in the soup.  For example, some people like to put kugija (구기자) or wolfberries in their soup.

Ginseng is quite expensive in Korea.  Some rare varieties cost about 20 U.S. dollars per root.  The more potent the ginseng the higher the cost.  Some people prefer to buy the weaker ginseng because they’re affordable.  For example dangsam (당삼) is a root found commonly around riverbanks and small shrubs.  There’s also something called danggwi (당귀).  I’ve heard that danggwi (당귀) is effective for women who have just given birth.  Personally I prefer the real thing even if it’s more expensive.  If I find that it’s really effective, it’s worth my money.

If you’re planning on taking some ginseng for medicinal use, make sure you talk to a specialist.  There are many qualified doctors who can tell you a lot more about ginseng and their side effects better than I can.  There are also many quacks out there, so be careful of them.  Sometimes they lie about the effects of a ginseng and jack up the price for it, so do your research.  Other than that, I just want to say kon-gang-ha-se-yo (건강하세요) or be healthy!

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