Korean Herbal Medicine

  • Hanbang
  • Korean Herbal Medicine
  • Oriental Medicine
  • Date: November 15, 2004 HC# 080243-268

    Re: Korean Herbal Medicine

    Yarnell E, Abascal K. Herbal medicine in Korea. Alternative & Complementary Therapies. 2004;June:161-166.

    In Korea, a almost unbroken tradition of herbal medicine (Hanbang) extends from thousands of years in the past to the present day. Although Hanbang was suppressed during the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910–1945, it survived this period and was revived after the Korean War with strong government support. Christian missionaries introduced Western medicine into Korea in the 1800s. However, only during the Japanese occupation did Western medicine become firmly established. At this time, the legal standing of Hanbang came into question. After the occupation and a period of political struggle, Hanbang practitioners (called hanuisa) finally obtained the equivalent licensure of medical doctors and are referred to as "Oriental Medical Doctors" (OMDs). With licensure came the opening of the University of Oriental Herbal Medicine, the first OMD training program approved by the government and incorporating Western medical standards. Ten additional schools had opened by 2001, and about 650 OMDs graduate each year.

    These schools teach both Western science and traditional herbal therapeutics, much like naturopathic medical instruction in the United States. Although OMDs generally base diagnoses and prescriptions on ancient knowledge, they do incorporate findings from Western medicine, such as Helicobacter pylori as the cause of peptic ulcer. OMDs practice either in small clinics or in traditional medicine hospitals, such as the modern Hospital of Jaseng Oriental Medicine in Seoul. Small herbal clinics run by OMDs constitute more than 50% of the herb shops in the Gyeongdong Market, which is the largest herb market in Korea. Among the Korean herbs sold in the market are dong quai (Angelica sinensis), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Herbal medicine research in Korea receives funding from both private and public sources.

    Although Hanbang has mainstream status and support in Korea, its status is still inferior to that of Western medicine. In comparison with Western medicine, Hanbang receives less funding, has fewer practitioners (only 10% of licensed physicians are OMDs), and is not covered as well by the national health care system. There are tensions between OMDs and MDs and between OMDs and pharmacists, who can prescribe drugs directly without physician input in Korea. In the latter case, strife has arisen over who should have legal authority to dispense herbal medicines; the law in 1953 enabling pharmacists to dispense herbal medicines was reversed in 1975 due to petitioning by OMDs but was reinstated in 1993.

    In conclusion, Hanbang is a significant contributor to health care in Korean society. According to the authors, because of its unbroken tradition, herbal medicine in Korea is more advanced than that in the West. Despite challenges from Western medicine, Hanbang is thriving, in part because its practitioners receive licensing akin to that of MDs. Finally, a substantial effort is being made in Korea to document the safety and efficacy of Hanbang.

    —Darren Early

    Hide comments


    • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

    Plain text

    • No HTML tags allowed.
    • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
    • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.