Korean Medicine Cabinet Essentials

  • Photo by Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

    Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist

Flu season isn’t over yet, folks. If the number of students missing from classes or hanging around the teacher’s office hacking their lungs out is any indication, winter is still hanging on in the form of one last round of colds and fevers.

For foreigners in Korea, getting sick can be even more debilitating—there’s usually no one around to care for you, plus going to a Korean pharmacy and attempting to secure the right medicine for your particular ailment can be intimidating at best.

But don’t worry if you can’t easily find your favorite brand from home—Korea has plenty of remedies that will keep you moving, no matter the ailment. Here are five of the most popular products that you can find in Korean medicine cabinets.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist1. 마데카솔 (Madecassol)
From scrapes and cuts to minor burns, this drug seems like a cure-all for skin problems. My host mom always had this at the ready, she said, when her kids would fall down on the playground. It sounds like Korea’s Neosporin, which my mom would also slather on surface wounds before sticking me with a My Little Pony band-aid.

For those of us above the age of five, Madecassol still helps treat cuts and burns and prevent scarring.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist2. 훼스탈 (Festal) or 활명수 (Hwal Myeong Su)
Festal and Hwal Myeong Su are two sides of digestive medicine. For skeptics who aren’t quite sure about herbal medicine, Festal comes in pill form and can help a variety of general stomach problems. The latter, packaged in a small glass bottle with a neon green cap, is a traditional treatment for digestive distress.

Hwal Myeong Su can also be a solution for a problem all-too-familiar to me—an over-full stomach. With a host mom who isn’t happy unless everyone in the house is eating something, this drink has come in handy on more than one occasion. Apparently my host dad’s mother keeps a solid stock of this drink so that she can eat to her heart’s content all day without suffering the adverse effects.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist3. 알보칠 (Albochil)
Fair warning: apparently many Koreans forgo Albochil’s official name and simply call it “the devil’s medicine.” A treatment for cold sores and canker sores in your mouth, it’s apparently both extremely effective and extremely painful. One co-worker noted that when she was little just the thought of using it would bring tears to her eyes. She still hates using it—but she noted that it’s better than dealing with a painful sore for days.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist4. 쌍화탕 (Ssang Hwa Tang)
When I developed a particularly nasty cold last winter, the first thing my principal did was present me with a box of Ssang hwa tang to alleviate the coughing and sneezing. I’ll be honest—it’s pretty nasty. The drink is thick and bitter, and to be honest I still have most of the box stashed away under my desk.

Used to treat mild colds, this herbal medicine may be nasty but my coworkers swear by it. Drink at least one bottle daily, and try heating it up a bit first to help it go down (although you’ll probably still have to plug your nose).

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist5. 우황청심원 (Woo Hwang Chung Shim Won)
Available as either a lozenge or a glass-bottled drink, Woo Hwang Chung Shim Won has an unusual purpose – to reduce stress, especially after a sudden shock. Koreans pop one of these amber-colored spheres into their mouths after major stress-inducing events like car accidents or deaths in the family. But Woo Hwang Chung Shim Won can also work for daily events—a co-worker noted that she used to take this medicine before going to take major tests to keep her nerves in check.

Jenna Gibson

About Jenna Gibson

Originally from Minnesota, Jenna moved to Korea to teach English at a middle school in Cheonan upon graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She loves traveling around the peninsula, especially via train. Check out stories and pictures from her trips at her blog.

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