Walks in the Apricot Forest: A Story about Ginseng

Tian Yi

PureInsight | February 3, 2003

[PureInsight.org.] [In Chinese, "Apricot Forest" is another term for the medical community. For more details see:
Wild ginseng is found in northeastern China. The remote Changbai Mountain in Jilin Province is especially well-known for growing wild ginseng roots that are hundreds or even thousands of years old. But the legend has it that the real hometown of ginseng is Shandong, not northeastern China. Here is the story:

A long, long time ago there was a temple called Yunmeng temple on Yunmeng Mountain in Shandong. There were two monks in the temple, one master and one disciple. The master was never in the mood for reading Buddhist scriptures or working in the field. He treated his young disciple very cruelly, and the young monk became pale and looked very weak.

One day the old monk left the temple and left the young disciple to work alone in the temple. A child wearing a red bib showed up. Nobody knew where he was from. He helped the young monk work. From then on, whenever the old monk left, the child came to help the young monk work in the temple. As soon as the old one returned, the child disappeared.

As time passed by, the old monk noticed that his disciple looked ruddy and he seemed to be able to finish every job he was assigned. The old monk was bewildered and he thought this was something really strange. He called his disciple over and interrogated him about what was going on. Reluctantly, the young monk told him the truth. The old monk thought, "There are few people living on the mountain, so where is the kid with the red bib from? He must be the legendary 'herb stick' (ginseng)." Therefore, he took a red thread out from his suitcase, threaded it onto a needle, and gave it to the young monk. He ordered the young monk to stick the needle into the kid's red bib if he showed up again.

The next day, the old monk left. The young monk wanted to tell the child what had happened, but he was too scared. He finally stuck the needle into the child 's red bib when the child was hurrying to go home. Early in the morning of the next day the old monk locked his disciple in the temple, and then he picked up his pickaxe and followed the red thread with a all the way down to an old red pine tree. There he found one herb stick. He was extremely excited at this discovery. He lifted the pickaxe to dig out a ginseng child (ginseng that is very old takes the shape of a child).
The old monk took the ginseng child back to the temple and put it in a pot with water. Then he weighted the lid with a stone. Then, he called his disciple to make a fire and cook it. Unfortunately he had to leave again on an urgent summons from his friend which he could not refuse. Before leaving, he told the young monk seriously, "You are not allowed to open the lid before I come back." After the old monk left, the pot unceasingly emitted a fantastic smell. The young monk was overcome with curiosity. He ignored his master's instructions, moved away the stone, and lifted the lid from the pot. The smell was so good that he tore off a piece of the stick to sample it. It was so sweet and juicy! So, forgetting everything, the young monk ate up all of the ginseng and soup. Just then, the old monk came hurrying back. The disciple was too anxious to do anything so he ran towards the temple. Suddenly he felt his legs lightening, and he flew up into the sky. While the old monk saw this scene, he knew that the disciple had eaten the entire ginseng. He was very sad.

Actually, the child with the red bib was a ginseng root. It was one of a pair of ginseng sticks living under the old red pine tree. Since the old monk took only one of them, the one left behind cried from loneliness. The red pine tree said, "Good boy, don't cry. I will bring you to northeastern China where there are few people. There I can protect you forever." The ginseng stopped crying, and followed the pine tree to flee away. They settled down on Changbai Mountain in northeastern China. Since then, there were no more ginsengs in inland China. Instead, ginseng roots on Changbai Mountain became more and more plentiful.

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