Geumsan in Chungcheongnam-do is the birthplace of Goryeo (Korean) ginseng and the nation’s hub for ginseng distribution where more than 80% of the total ginseng produced nationally is collected and traded.
In Korea, ginseng has long been treated as a rare but excellent medicinal food, so much so that some say it is the “best gift that God has given man.” The production of ginseng must meet certain environmental conditions for it to grow properly. This is why Geumsan’s pristine natural environment preserved from pollutants is ideal for growing ginseng.
Marking its 34th year, the Geumsan Insam (Ginseng) Festival (Sep 19 to 28, 2014) has organized various programs to promote the superb quality of this ginseng, a special product of Geumsan-gun. Over the years, as ginseng production became more stable, more and more people consume ginseng on a regular basis to maintain their health rather than eating it only when they fall ill. This has led to a wider variety of ways ginseng is consumed, which includes extracts, food, and ginseng tea. Ginseng is also gaining more popularity overseas for its medicinal benefits.
So, on a clear autumn day, let’s hit the road and head to the Geumsan Insam Festival, the most unique health festival in Korea.
Ginseng digging is one of the festival’s most popular programs. Sign up to visit a designated ginseng field and unearth some real Geumsan ginseng. The program gives participants not only the fun of digging for ginseng, but also the chance to buy ginseng at a discounted price, making it quite popular every year. As the ginseng field is located at a distance (Geumsan Ginseng Museum square area), a shuttle bus will be running between the festival venue and the ginseng field to provide more convenience to visitors. If you plan on participating on the weekend, when there are throngs of participants, make sure to call in advance to reserve a slot. Participation is free of charge.
Ginseng tea can be sampled at the Festival Information Center and various other locations inside the venue. The ‘Health Experience Pavilion’ and other outdoor event booths also offer teas made with various medicinal herbs. Sampling of ginseng teas and medicinal herb teas is free of charge. A Korean proverb goes, “good medicine tastes bitter”; the teas may be bitter but let’s drink to our health!
The red ginseng foot bath uses water infused with red ginseng extract and other medicinal herbs. More than any other foot bath, the red ginseng foot bath has remarkable effects on enhancing immunity and relieving stress and fatigue as the remedial benefits of red ginseng and the medicinal herbs are absorbed through the skin.
Together with the ginseng digging program, the Ginseng Folk Village is one of the most popular interactive events at the festival. Visitors can plant ginseng seeds, and peel, bind, and dry ginseng, all for free. The program is organized outdoors and is open to everyone. It is especially popular among families.
Various hands-on programs will be offered during the festival such as using ginseng and medicinal herbs to make all-natural soap and lip balm. The program takes between 15 and 20 minutes. After the program, it takes about 40 minutes to an hour for the soap to harden, so be sure you have enough time to participate.
The International Ginseng Exchange Exhibition is another one of the major events of the Geumsan Insam (Ginseng) Festival. Now in its 16th year, the exhibition displays and sells products made with ginseng and other medicinal herbs produced by ginseng companies from the region. This is a great chance for tourists to buy quality ginseng products at inexpensive prices. The event also features an IR forum attended by overseas buyers to expand the worldwide market for Geumsan ginseng.
Particularly popular among the older men and women, the Health Experience Center is one of the major events of the Geumsan Insam (Ginseng) Festival. Here visitors can check their health status through blood pressure, blood sugar, and osteoporosis tests. They can also try various East Asian medical practices such as a hand, foot and facial massage or hand acupuncture, and sample medicinal herb teas.
There is a food market inside the festival venue where visitors can choose from a number of traditional Korean foods like bibimbap, Korean pancakes, gukbap, and banquet noodles, all made with some ginseng. Meals range between 5,000 won and 7,000 won, and they come in large servings.
The ginseng bibimbap and deep-fried ginseng are the most popular menu items at the venue. The ginseng bibimbap comes with fresh wild greens and thinly sliced ginseng on top of the rice. The deep-fried ginseng is dipped in a red ginseng extract and tastes delicious. This is what ‘food like medicine’ is all about.
The unique ginseng makgeolli of Geumsan has a mild ginseng flavor and taste. There is nothing like a bowl of fresh makgeolli to quench your thirst while you are looking around the venue. The best snack pairing for makgeolli is the ginseng, seafood, and spring onion pancake. Try a piece of pancake with some refreshing ginseng makgeolli for a delightful food experience.
Other unique programs like face painting, caricature portraits, and ginseng food making are also held at the venue. The main stage of the venue hosts various performances starting at 7 pm every day, including Korean traditional music and dance, a percussion music performance, and a K-pop concert. There is a free shuttle service running from one end of the venue to the other.
Great for history enthusiasts, the Geumsan Ginseng Museum is where visitors can learn all about the story of Geumsan ginseng, which the area has been producing for over 1,500 years. The center is located inside the festival venue. Information on the history, production, and effects of Geumsan ginseng are on exhibit together with photos and models.
Near the main gate of the festival venue, the area around the Geumsan Fresh Ginseng Center and International Ginseng Market is called the ‘Geumsan Ginseng and Medicinal Herb Market,’ or the ‘Geumsan Ginseng Yangnyeong Market.’ The area features a cluster of retail and wholesale ginseng shops where 80% of the nation’s total ginseng production is traded. Quality ginseng and medicinal herbs can be purchased at the market, which is always bustling with people even during non-festival periods.
The temple was built in 866 during the Silla Kingdom (BC557–AD935). Though small in size, the temple is famous for its Main Buddha Hall (Tangible Cultural Asset No. 143) and 1,100 year-old ginkgo tree (Natural Monument No. 365). The road from the one pillar gate of the temple to the ginkgo tree is lined with groves of fir trees, allowing for a tranquil walk in the forest.
Geumsan Insam (Ginseng) Festival 2014
☞ Geumsan-gun County: http://www.geumsan.go.kr/html/en/ (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
☞ Geumsan Tourism: http://tour.geumsan.go.kr/html/tour (Korean)
☞ Geumsan Insam Festival: http://tour.geumsan.go.kr/html/tour/festival/festival_0204.html (Korean)
*The festival leaflet (English, Japanese, Chinese) can be downloaded from the website (bottom left corner).
☞ 1330 Korea Travel Phone: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
*Fees may apply for some hands-on programs.
<Last updated on August 20, 2014>