North Korean ginseng is the stuff of legends, quite literally. The DPRK itself is no stranger to unfounded myths and anecdotes. One such story is that they once owed a debt to then-Czechoslovakia (or Bulgaria, depending on who’s telling the tale) that they paid off with North Korean ginseng.
Although Czechoslovakia and/or Bulgaria were not exactly massive ginseng fiends, they purportedly took the payment. 20 tonnes of unconventional payment, after all, is better than no payment at all!
Funny (and potentially apocryphal) anecdotes aside, it’s fairly well established that North Korean ginseng is the best in the world, and that they take the stuff very seriously.
Can you buy ginseng in North Korea?
We’re glad you’re asking obvious, easily answered questions, hypothetical reader – of course you can! And not just ginseng proper, but any ginseng-based product you can conceive of. There’s even a North Korean soap opera that revolves around the ginseng business ( we will cover that in more detail later).
Hold on though – what’s ginseng?
It is the root of the Panax plant, and includes Korean ginseng, South China ginseng and American ginseng (reportedly more jingoistic and reactionary than other ginsengs). It’s typically characterised by the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin, which are chemistry thingies you’ll have to look up by yourself.
How do you say ‘ginseng’ in Korean?
In Korean, ginseng is known as insam.
Ginseng – what is it good for? Absolutely nothing something
As with many of these popular natural remedies in Asia, it’s “good for the man”. Luckily for all involved in its consumption, however, ginseng is also “good for the woman”, and the saying goes that if both man and woman partake in the miracle root, the resulting carnal conflagration is “bad for the bed”. Aside from sexy time, ginseng purportedly has a number of other medicinal qualities, and can apparently help with everything from the menopause, diabetes and even cancer.
Can you eat ginseng?
We love how these questions keep playing right into our hands! Not only can you eat ginseng, but in North Korea you’re almost guaranteed to. Many a dish is served up with ginseng – most famously the ginseng-stuffed chicken at the Kaesong DMZ, ginseng tea and even ginseng candy. We are huge fans of ginseng chicken and tea, although the ginseng candy is rather an acquired taste.
What does Ginseng taste like?
Ginseng has a very strong and unique flavour that’s hard to mistake for anything else. It’s strong in the same way that ginger is, and is found in many Korean side dishes and the aforementioned ginseng tea. There is also insamju (‘ginseng liquor’) that can be bought in Kaesong and is extremely strong. Infused strong liquor type soju’s are a thing, and this is probably about as North Korean as a gift as you might find in the country.
Are you serious about a ginseng soap opera?
Serious as cancer. North Korea aired a drama about Koreans protecting ginseng from the nefarious ginseng-pilfering machinations of the invading Japanese. The root really is that big a deal. This was a long running drama/soap opera, which has since gained legendary status, both for subject matter, and for it showing just how much these guys love the stuff.
Can I like immediately book a tour with you guys to buy North Korean ginseng for myself?
You’re making this far too easy, enthusiastic ginseng-obsessed potential tourist! Of course we feel there is much more to a North Korean tour than merely ginseng, but each and all to their own.
To Join a big North Korean ginseng odyssey check out our extensive list of tours and sign up today!