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Korean ginseng from Tasmania

These images are kindly supplied by Ziggy!

It’s called Insam in Korea. A herb so valuable they say battles have been fought over the land on which it grows.

Asian ginseng has been found in Korea, northeastern China and far eastern Siberia for centuries. But, thanks to a German-born Australian, Ziggy Pyka, it is now being grown on the other side of the world in Tasmania, Australia.

Ziggy and his family moved to Australia in 1987. They initially settled in Western Australia because the state was looking for more tradespeople. Ziggy was an electrician before he was a farmer. He took a gamble and came to the other side of the world to make his home.

No one knew a word of English when they arrived. But they certainly appreciated the wide open spaces.

“Australians who’ve grown up here don’t know the gift they have. I grew up longing for space. As a kid, I loved running around outside. I know the value of space, of land. I know the importance of owning your own land,” Ziggy explains.

Soon the Western Australian heat became too much and Ziggy and his family began looking for a home with a cooler climate.

It was during this time of searching their life changed at a dinner party.

“We went to dinner and met an academic who specialised in China. He suggested that ginseng might be a good crop to grow. That was it. We moved to Tasmania for the four seasons and to grow ginseng.”

That was 23 years and three ginseng harvests ago.

Ginseng’s use as a medicinal herb was noted as early as 196 AD in China. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory and beneficial antioxidant properties. They say the herb lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels, enhances mental functions, reduces stress and promotes relaxation. Recent studies suggest it may even strengthen the immune system.

Unfortunately, ginseng is notoriously difficult to grow. The pH levels in the soil need to be just right. If it sees more than two hours of direct sunlight, the plant will die.

It also takes about eight years to harvest. To grow it at commercial quantities takes determination, patience and is not without risk.

When asked why he chose such a difficult and time-consuming crop to grow, Ziggy is philosophical.

“You have to do something in life,” he says with good humour.

The problem he discovered of growing ginseng in Tasmania was shade cover.

“Tasmania is an island that can get lots of wind. Some winds travel up to 120 km per hour or so, lifting the cover off the ginseng. It also needs to grow under deciduous trees like the oak. It cannot grow under native eucalyptus trees because the oil in the leaves makes the ground too acidic.”

Ziggy planted those deciduous trees to make a perfect environment for this herb that has migrated so far from home. It has taken time and dedication, but the trees are now ready.

At 63 years old, Ziggy is getting ready for another planting. It’s going to take another eight long years before it can be harvested, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“C’est la vie! Thanks to ginseng, I hope to live a long and healthy life!” he laughs.

Ziggy’s children are now grown with families of their own. While nurturing this plant through its cycles, his family have put down roots in this country.

“My children are now 37 and 34 years old. They have become Aussies with perhaps a little bit of German. I have three grandchildren and they all love to come to the farm. They have spent at least once a week here all their lives.”

He has every right to be proud. His determination and hard work have built something remarkable. Something that can only be found in Tasmania — like their Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey infused with Korean ginseng. A product of migration and of this country.

“They may not make you healthy, but they will make you happy.”

Photo credit: Kirby Nesbit Photography

I came across Ziggy’s remarkable story while trying to help a friend. She knew a Korean adoptee who was struggling with her identity after she found out her biological parents had passed away.

She always felt like she didn’t belong in Australia and now felt like all connections to Korea, all opportunities to learn a part of her heritage, were cut from her.

My lovely Anglo-Australian friend wanted to encourage her with a gift of some kind. A plant from Korea that flourishes in this country.

Ziggy and his family may not know it, but their dedication to this valuable herb will do more than provide Korean ginseng infused products only found in Tasmania.

I hope their story will encourage one woman, who is going through a difficult time, find her place in this country. I hope their story will welcome her home.

Ziggy and his family farm salmon too. You can find out more about their endeavours here.

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February 2019
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