Daegu Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Culture Festival: Oriental Medicine, Demystified
In thinking of oriental medicine, one might conjure a few images: an adjumma stirring a remedy of roots and herbs in a large clay pot; a wrinkly, white-haired man poking silver, sliver-thin needles into a patient with painstaking precision; a group of shiny-headed men in flowing robes, sitting comfortably, silently, an image of calm and peace. With the great differences from western medicine and the language barrier, it can be challenging for foreigners to learn about and experience Oriental and Herbal Medicine during their stay in Korea. This past weekend at the 36th Daegu Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Culture Festival, however, helped to demystify traditional Eastern medicine—from its roots to its role in modern-day society.
Though the majority of the festival was in Korean, props, plays, and hands-on demonstrations helped foreigners and locals alike to better understand traditional medicine. Having a Korean-speaking friend certainly helped in our journey into the past and present of traditional healing.
Upon entering the festival, visitors were granted one wish—one which they could leave to be answered, blowing in the wind inside the Medicinal Herb Tunnel, a breathtaking and breath-giving overhead garden of branches from Korea’s favorite foliage, the pine tree. By day’s end the wishing wall was flowing full of dreams and aspirations waiting to be granted, spurred by the sacks of medicine inside.
Past the tunnel, booths lined the streets of Yangnyeong Market—Daegu’s neighborhood specializing in herbal medicine—with varying draws. Some were simply educational, one offered a free full body check-up for foreigners, others offered samples of ancient elixirs and bitter brews. We tried one that the vendor said included “everything”— while it tasted vile, it gave us the energy to tackle more of the festival.
One of the most fascinating parts of the event, from a foreigner’s eyes, was the quantity and diversity of mushrooms available to treat what ails. Some were tall, some were small, some looked like they’d taken a turmeric bath, and there was one that only came around every three years, but lesson learnt – fungi is an essential fixture in Korean herbal medicine.
Mid-way through the walk, a fresh smell wafted past – a veritable Herb Hill had been planted in the middle of the street, a garden of green varieties growing atop the concrete. Signs planted alongside the shrubbery listed the name and the condition for which each herb could be prescribed.
Another aspect that caught our eyes was the series of well-being dishes carefully arranged by local students. Their unique work in food styling was an excellent visual aid in demonstrating the importance of including medicines in traditional Korean meals—many of the foods presented were reserved for royalty in the past, a sure sign that much of Korean-style herbal medicine is based on Hippocrates’s basic principle: “Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.” Dishes were laden with roots, herbs, dried berries, and other foodstuffs deemed essential to good health, and presented in an lavish fashion, fit for kings and queens.
While we missed some of the other events of the festival—the outdoor play, the parade, the tent in which experts diagnosed your body type and gave recommendations to appropriate diet—it was a great beginner’s course on the Oriental and Herbal Medicine that Daegu is so well-known for. Of course, if you haven’t got your fix, the Oriental Medicine Museum in Yangnyeong Market is open year-round and is sure to provide a more broad scope of traditional eastern theory and practice—the perfect prescription for a thorough education in Herb Medicine and Culture. Keep your eye on the Colorful Daegu blog for our recap on a night at the Museum!