Traditional Korean Medicine Museum


My son in law loves site seeing. If there was a job where all you had to do everyday was site see, he would thoroughly enjoy it. We went site seeing today. He had been to this museum, but he wanted to show it to me. When he began the university in Korea, he went to a university where he was studying things like are in this museum, but he did what most young Korean men do. They go to the university, drop out for a year and go to the military, and then go back to the university. When he got out of the military, the university where he had been studying was closed, and he had to begin again at another university. If he had had the chance to finish the first university, he would have had a very unique Korean knowledge. This museum contains the kinds of things he would have understood.

a model of an old style Korean hospital…Notice the people in the front. They are making medicine.
This is part of the model of people making and taking medicine into the hospital of the royal palace.  The Royal palace was the first place to have a hospital, and after that, the emperor thought everyone should have access to medicine, so he built hospitals all over Korea.
This is a model of the buildings at the royal palace where they were making and storing books. They were trying hard to educate the rest of Korea about medicine.

The main part of the museum is up on the third floor. The first room we went into had models. There was a model of an old time hospital in a hanoak and people making the traditional medicine. Another model was of the emperor’s palace with people making and bringing medicine to the emperor’s hospital, a place where they stored things for embalming, a place where the emperor had them making and storing books. The emperor is actually the one who first established hospitals all over Korea. They had women doctors in Korea from as early as the 1400’s because members of the royal household didn’t want to talk to men about their problems.

This is a statue of the spirit of the guardian of the mountains. If you notice he is holding a ginseng root. This statue was in the middle of the ginseng room.
This iron was made for making ginseng cookies.
a traditional medicine cabinet
a traditional mother of pearl table…If you look on the top, there are ginseng roots made out of mother of pearl on the top.
ginseng cigarettes
gingseng pipes and pipe tobacco
the different stages of the cultivation of ginseng

As we continued in the museum, we went to a room dedicated to ginseng. Koreans really believe in ginseng. They have ginseng candies, ginseng ointments, ginseng facial products, etc. In this room, I learned they even have ginseng cigarettes and pipe tobacco. Paju City, S. Korea is the ginseng capital of the world. They were giving me so many ginseng products the first year I came to Korea that I did some research about ginseng. According to what I found on the computer, the modern American medical doctors have researched ginseng, and they say they can’t find any scientific basis for the belief in ginseng, but you can’t convince the Korean grandmothers.



Also in the room about ginseng, we spotted an important piece of paper. It was written in Chinese pictographs. My son in law could read some of it because his dad is a professor of Chinese pictographs used by Koreans, and he has studied with his dad for many years because he is interested in reading the things from the history of Korea.  This important piece of paper we saw in the ginseng room he said was the Korean Hippocratic oath which has the same meaning of the one that we know about in America.

Dr. Heo Joon, Korea’s most famous and influential doctor. Much of this museum is dedicated to him.
a picture of Dr. Heo Joon’s funeral from the art museum
a model of Dr. Heo Joon writing his many books educating the Korean people about medicine
Clothes worn by people who worked at the emperor’s palace

After all this, there was a movie on the most prominent traditional Korean medicine doctor, Dr. Heo Joon. He was born in Gimpo City, about 30 minutes by car from where I live. He was the son of a concubine, so if he was going to make it in this world, he had to be diligent from a young age, and he began studying medicine from the age of 14. When he was in his 20’s he obtained a post at the emperor’s palace, and when a prince got small pox, he gained notoriety because he cured the prince of small pox. After that, the Japanese invaded, and he went on the run with the royal household. He got to know the emperor, and they became good friends. After that, he became the emperor’s doctor for several years. The emperor had him writing books about all the medical procedures and medicines he knew. When the emperor died, they blamed his doctor, and he was banished from the hospital. However, he wasn’t daunted in his pursuit of helping his people and writing medical books. In banishment, he continued treating patients and writing books. He main idea about medicine was looking for a cure was almost impossible, but the doctor should be able to alleviate the symptoms and take the pain away.

One of the books written by Dr. Heo Joon with a chart of the body
Some of the instruments used to grind the herbs into medicine form.
one of the many display cases with different pieces of bark, roots, etc. that are used in Korean traditional medicine
another instrument used for grinding roots, bark, dried plants, wood, etc. into medicine


After walking through rooms of books he wrote, we went into a room dedicated to herbs. Most of Korean traditional medicine was dedicated to understanding and preparing herbs for people to use. In this room, there were things like dried ginger, dried mint, green onions, etc. The tools they used to grind things up were on display also. When I lived in Romania, they had a whole major at the university dedicated to herbs and different plants they could find in the mountains. The Romanians understood that chamomile tea made them rest, mint tea was good for their stomachs, etc. The American Indians also understood these kinds of things. When Louis and Clark were asked to explore, Sacajawea went with them, and if she didn’t know how to dig wild onions and other things like that, they would have died. My grandmother was a half breed American Indian, and she knew many of these things. Before she died, she walked through the woods with my mother and showed her eatable plants. My mother also knows many of these kinds of things. I knew when I saw this room, my mother would be interested in it.
After that, we went into another room with more traditional medicine things were on display. When my son in law saw the sea horses, he told me that they believe when a woman has a baby, if they hold a sea horse, it will make her plain less, but he thinks it is just a superstition. I wonder if it is like them telling us today when we have a baby in America that if we have a baby already, bring the picture of our oldest child and concentrate on it, to focus on it to take our minds off of the pain and give us hope while we are in pain.

The herb garden on the rooftop

After that, we went up to the rooftop of the museum. Up there, they had an herb garden. It was like a park you could walk through, and the plants were all different kinds of herbs. As I walked through the herb garden, I could only think of how much my mother would like it. My mother has always been an extremely good gardener, and the garden made me think of all the beautiful flowers and vegetables she has grown through the years.
My son in law still has an interest in these kinds of things even though the university where he was studying closed. He said in his first year, he only studied Chemistry and Math, and he never got to study these kinds of things. People from all over the world know about natural medicines. However, there are some strange beliefs among the people who practice Korean traiditonal medicine. There was a man at church once who brought some bees saying it was traditional medicine. He was stinging people. He stung the head of a bald guy saying it would stimulate the pores and cause the hair to grow. He stung the knee of a guy who had a hurt knee saying it would make the pain go away. I asked him if the pain went away, and he said, “The bee sting hurt so much, it took his mind off the knee pain, but the knee pain didn’t go away.” Some of these medicines worked, but some were like the bee stings. Even my grandmother had some strange ideas. She had several children, so to take away the birth of a child when she thought she had too many kids, she fed corn shucks to the cow. It didn’t change anything. The child still existed and grew up, but the corn shucks were supposed to take away the birthday. There were strange beliefs in the old people of all countries. As time goes on, our grandchildren and great grandchildren will also probably find some of our beliefs strange.

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