Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oriental Raisin Tree (헛개나무)

My friend, Yoon, and I have been doing cultural sharing on healing herbs and practices in our native countries. I'm fascinated with the oriental herbs and the huge herb markets displaying bursting bags and baskets of musty smelling barks and roots that the older generations oggle and haggle over. Wandering the herb markets is a delight for me, but I'm not satisfied with just the visual culture ... I want to KNOW the beliefs behind them!

On the 헛게나무 or Oriental Raisin Tree

The 헛개나무 is common to oriental medicine, referred to in Korea as 한의약 (Korean medicine), and so it is readily available in herb and open air markets and in the 5-day markets which specialize in medicinals. Probably the biggest reason for its popularity is due to the huge drinking culture in Korea. With so much indigestion, stomach upset and malaise from binge drinking, the boiled pulp and bark of the 헛개나무 ease hangovers and detox the liver. It is believed to be great for alcoholics and particularly helpful for treating the fatty liver.

To make the post-alcohol detox drink, add 50 grams of sliced 헛개나무 to 2 liters of water and bring to a boil. Once it begins to boil, turn the heat down and simmer the liquid for 2 hours with the lid opened or removed (for releasing toxins). After the liquid has been simmered for 2 hours, it is ready to drink. Though drinking it hot or cold effects the body the same, most people prefer to drink the liquid chilled and as if it were water, that is, throughout the day. There doesn't seem to be any limit on how much a person can consume in a day but my gut feeling parallels the cliche "too much of a good thing" isn't good. The woody plant can be boiled several times for extracting the healing properties, but 2 or 3 times at the very least.

The 헛개나무 is also believed to be great for releasing stress, lowering high blood pressure, counteracting jaundice, constipation and diabetes. As already said, it is great for the hangover and upset stomach so marketing, to exploit this belief, has happily created a 헛개나무 yogurt. Older people also use it when boiling meat in order to "clean up" the meat and remove bad tastes and toxins. Even the fruit of the 헛개나무 has its purpose -- it is used in Oriental medicine, particularly when doing acupunture (although Yoon wasn't certain exactly how).

The web is filled with places to purchase 헛개나무, the fruit, the bark (pictured above), the leaf. Of course it's available through GMarket -- hey, what isn't?! But because of its popularity in the Korean culture, there is even a market that specializes in the woody plant: This site markets the domesticated plant substances, the really wild plant substances -- 헛개나무 껍질, the skin/bark of the tree, which is marketed at ₩50,000/kg -- and even the 헛개나무 얼매 or fruit of the tree, which sells at ₩130,000/60 fruit juice packets.

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