Growing up in Singapore, where traditional medicine is still highly respected and widely used, it was natural that I wanted to know more about the world of Korean traditional medicine. So, I scoured the internet for any information and stumbled upon an article about Seoul Yangnyeong (서울약령시).
History of Yangnyeong
The history of Seoul’s Yangnyeong can be traced all the way back to the Joseon era. The area was established as Seoul’s medicinal district in the 1650s.
King HyoJong created a central location where Korean traditional medicine and herbs would be gathered in a central location so that citizens could have better access to life-saving medicine. Before Yangnyeong, curriers would be sent throughout the peninsula to collect medicine which took extensive amounts of time. As a result, many lives were lost while waiting for medicine.
Yangnyeong had a 300-year history as being the capital of Korean traditional medicine. However, in 1943 the Japanese imperial army sought to destroy the practice of Korean traditional medicine, and Yangnyeong was largely abandoned.
Modern History of Yangnyeong
Since then, Yangnyeong has been partially restored. In the 1960s there was a movement in South Korea to embrace much of the traditional culture that had been lost due to Japanese colonization, war, and modernization. More than 1,000 shops selling herbs and traditional medicine opened in the area. Then, in 1995 the Korean Traditional Medicine Council was formed and Yangnyeong was designated as a special cultural zone in 2005.
Currently, Yangnyeong is not only the largest Korean traditional medicine market but also the largest medicine market in East Asia. As such, it is the go-to place if you would like to learn about oriental medicine.
There are two key places in Yangnyeong:
- Seoul K-Medi Center
- Seoul Yangnyeong Market
Now, as someone who loves herbs and history, this was the perfect place for me to visit. The opportunity to learn more about the new country I was living in, plus a place where I could finally get my hands on some herbs was enough to get me off the couch and off on a quest for knowledge.
Seoul K-Medi Center
Situated in the heart of Yangnyeong, lies the Seoul K-Medi Center. It is a multipurpose cultural complex that was established with the aim to promote the safety and excellency of traditional medicine.
The center has different facilities to help immerse you in the history and ways of Korean traditional medicine. There was even a K-Herb cafe for you to try out herbal teas to your heart’s content. Unfortunately, I was only able to visit the museum. However, I was content with just that.
As I walked towards the entrance, the massive building stood out. The blend of modern and traditional was seamless and majestic. After what seemed like an eternity of gawking, I made my way inside to purchase a ticket. The ticket to the museum was only 1,000 won, which makes it more than affordable for the amount of knowledge gained.
On my way to the museum, I noticed a stand that had pamphlets in multiple languages. This would be comforting for those who could not speak the language. With the pamphlet in their native language, they would find it easier to enjoy and understand what the center provided. I was also distracted by the little miniature village of the past. It was interesting to see what the area looked like hundreds of years ago.
The museum was dimly lit with the displays bright enough to capture its visitor’s attention. The first thing you will see is the timeline and history of Korean medicine. Next to that are the tools of the trade.
Behind glass walls, the tools used to harvest, extract and concoct medicine are placed in neat rows for easy viewing. On the far right of the display, there is an interactive kiosk where you can find out about the different tools in four languages; Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese.
On the opposite side, you can find a variety of ingredients used in Korean medicine. I was surprised to see some familiar herbs that were used back home. That, and the gigantic deer antlers and swirls of little, tiny dried snakes.
Different Body Types According to Korean Medicine
According to traditional Korean medicine, there are four body-type categories; Taeyang-in, Taeeum-in, Soyang-in, Soeum-in. At the center, there is an interactive kiosk where you can find out which category you belong to. After taking the test, I got Soyang-in. After reading the description, I realized that it had fit me to a T! If you would like to figure out what category you belong to, I highly recommend trying this. This also comes in four languages; Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese.
Each body type has different disease risks. What I found interesting is that they not only categorize physical diseases by body type but also mental health risks.
The museum was lots of fun and I definitely recommend it to families, friends, or those who just want to learn and know more about the history of Korean medicine. With my thirst for knowledge quenched, it was time to move on to the market.
Click Here to learn more about the Seoul K Medi Center.
Seoul Yangnyeong Market
The scent of herbs filled my nose and the bustling sounds of the crowd overwhelmed me as I made my way toward the market. I love making medicinal oils as well as teas in my spare time, so I was happy to find the market filled to the brim with herbs. However, I had specific herbs in mind and as a result, I ran around like a lost duckling.
Tip: Find the Korean Names of Herbs
I highly recommend finding out the names of the herbs that you need in Korean and compiling them in a list to show the vendors with ease. Click Here to view a list of medicinal herbs translated into Korean. Korean, English, and Chinese names are included in the list.
After a while, I came across a store that had everything I needed, Deokhyeondang(덕현당한약국). The vendor and the doctor there were pleasant and patient with me. They were also bewildered to see a lone, young foreign woman shopping for herbs like these in a sea of older ladies and gents.
Tip: Bring Cash
Additionally, you should bring cash. Not card, unless you’re planning to buy an insane amount of herbs. Most stores have minimum card purchases. Chances are you won’t need too much for personal use.
“Why cash?” You may ask. It’s simple, it is super affordable when you buy the amount you need. Most of the shop owners and customers are elderly, so cash is what they are most comfortable with.
Many stores that I went to did not allow me to purchase small amounts of the herbs that I needed. However, Deokhyeondang allowed me to buy only what I needed at a reasonable price. I was grateful for that and have now made that store my go-to shop for Korean traditional medicine. In total, I spent about 20,000 won which also included sachets for oil-making.
Seoul Yangnyeong-si is a great place to experience the world of traditional Korean medicine. If you are like me and love history or herbs, or if you just want to experience Korean culture, I suggest you add Seoul Yangnyeong to your list of things to do!
Seoul K Medi Center (서울한방진흥센터) Address: 26 Yangnyeongjungang-ro, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul Korean Address: 서울 동대문구 약령중앙로 26 Operating Hours: Wed - Mon: 10:00 AM - 05:00 PM