Kaesong, once the capital of Korea’s first unified state of Koryo that existed between 918 and 1392, is well-known as a place with many historical sites and an insam-growing area.
The Pyongyang Times reporter Han Kwi Hun visited Kaesong City where Kaesong Koryo insam with strong fragrance and high medicinal efficacy has been grown since ancient times.
King of medicinal herbs
There is an insam tower on the summit of a peak linking Mt Chonma and Mt Songak which stands majestically as if embracing the city.
The stone tower in the shape of insam was erected in the period of Ancient Joson that existed between the early 30th century BC and 108 BC, a good reminder of the Koreans’ 5 000-year history of insam cultivation.
On Mt Songak there is also an altar for the sun god where a sacrificial rite was performed after harvesting insam, which proves that cultivation and use of insam had been brisk since the period of Ancient Joson.
Insam-growing in Kaesong was steadily carried forward through the periods of Ancient Joson, Koguryo (277 BC-AD 668), Koryo (918-1392) and feudal Joson dynasty (1392-1910) and Kaesong Koryo insam became well known to other countries as the best treasure of Korea. It is evidenced by historical records of Korea and its neighbouring countries.
Kaesong Koryo insam is representative of those cultivated in Korea as Kaesong is the home and right soil of insam.
That is why a saying was coined that only the one facing Mt Songak is a genuine insam.
As the place is provided with ideal natural and geographical conditions for its growth and cultivation, the locals created a history of insam cultivation by availing themselves of such natural features of the area and developed original cultivation techniques.
Kaesong Koryo insam has a long taproot with moderate numbers of lateral roots and rootlets and produces remarkable aging-retarding, anti-cancer and anti-radiation effects.
At present, Kaesong serves as the capital of cultivation, processing, study and dissemination of insam and of distribution and trade of insam products.
Insam plots seen in different parts of the city is a scene peculiar to the area and anyone can easily estimate its insam output.
The Kaesong Koryo Insam Processing Factory and Kaesong Koryo Insam Distillery are located at the foot of Mt Songak and turn out goods high in demand.
The former mass-produces more than 100 varieties of goods in over 60 kinds.
Insam goods are on sale in the Kaesong Koryo insam speciality shop and other commercial service units in the city to be perfect souvenirs for the visitors to the city.
Researchers and lecturers of the research units specializing in Kaesong Koryo insam and Koryo Songgyungwan University bring forth various research findings related to its cultivation and use.
“There are many insam-growing folks in the city,” said Ri Hwang Suk living in neighbourhood unit No. 40 of Songak-dong, Kaesong.
Her family also cultivates insam in their kitchen garden and their cultivation method is so efficient that not only neighbours but other people in adjoining villages visit her to get advice.
“Kaesong Koryo insam is a divine plant given by nature and is permeated with the devotion of its grower. Without devotion, you are unable to grow it and even though you cultivate it, it fails to produce desired medicinal effects. Insam requires pure mind and devotion,” Ri often tells such visitors.
Her family gathers a harvest of insam each year and they use some of it in diet and sell the rest to earn income.
Dishes prepared with insam are specialties of Kaesong.
Although she is nearly 80, Ri Hwang Suk cultivates her insam plot full of vim and vigour.
“Kaesong has less patients suffering from cancer and diabetes. It is attributable to insam. Kaesong Koryo insam is really the pride of my hometown and the Korean nation,” said Ri.