CONTEXT: HL is a second year student at USC, originally from Maryland. HL learned this practice from her grandparents, who she lived with until moving to Los Angeles. HL’s grandparents are both from Korea, which is where they learned this practice. HL’s relationship with this is that she does not believe it had any effect on her health and strength, but appreciates that her grandparents wanted that for her.
HL: So for some reason – in Korean culture – my grandparents would always have one of their siblings visit Korea and come back, and when they came back the would bring this syrup/juice thing that was made up of crushed up deer bones or some kind of big animal. It was the most bitter disgusting thing I had ever eaten in my entire life and I always knew when they opened the big red box that it was in there. So then I would have to drink this pouch of the crushed up bone juice, and they were like, “oh its so that you grow up to be healthy and strong” and stuff. So it’s a common East Asian herbal medicine thing. Yeah that was a tradition I grew up with. It would happen once or twice a year – whenever someone would go to Korea on vacation and come back. Probably from when I was about four to when I was ten. They prioritize it more for kids, and you can find these boxes with the pouches in HMART, like here I’ve seen them. They’re hidden away in a special area on a special shelf near the alcohol section. They’re like 100 or 200 dollars for a box of these pouches. I thought it was bullshit but I did it because they forced me too, or sometimes if I did it they would give me money. To specify, the pouches were actually red ginseng, other root things, and deer antlers, but I swear my grandpa told me it was bones.
ANALYSIS: This is an example of folk medicine, also related to life cycle, as it is primarily given to children. Red ginseng is native to Korea, as are deer, so both could be part of folk traditions going back many years. I do not know of the health benefits of either, but as with other folk medicine there could be medical benefits derived from them. HL said the mixture did not taste good, which can invoke a feeling that if it doesn’t taste good, but someone is drinking it anyway, then it must have some other benefit, such as health. It is a marker of life cycle, as HL said that this is mostly only done until 18. This folk medicine practice also serves as a way of passing down family practices and cultural heritage related to being Korean, as HL’s grandparents insisted she participate, which connects her to something they learned while growing up in Korea, while she was growing up in the US.