The prices of various medicinal plants sold at North Korea’s markets have decreased compared to the same period last year, Daily NK has learned.

According to a source in the country, the fall in prices is due to decreased demand following the halt of trade and smuggling over the Sino-North Korean border.

“Medicinal plant sales points at markets have become almost empty ever since the halt in trade and smuggling recently,” a Yanggang Province-based source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Daily NK. According to him, around this time of year various kinds of medicinal plants typically sell “like hot cakes” at the markets, but that is not the case this year.

“Some hospitals are taking matters into their own hands to acquire medicinal plants in demand here [but] medicinal plant stalls in the markets have only one or two sellers,” the source explained, adding that the sellers are lucky because there are still some people who come around to buy certain medicinal plants, such as moxa and solomon’s seal.

Medicinal plants are such a popular export item in North Korea that almost all North Korean trading companies have them on their export lists. Mountainous Yanggang Province, for its part, is a popular spot for people to come and harvest various medicinal plants during the spring, summer and fall.

Some medicinal plants continue to sell for prices similar to last year but others, such as ovate-leaf atractyloades and Chinese Clematis, are harder to find, the source told Daily NK. Thorow wax, which sold for around KPW 9,000 last year is now selling for KPW 6,000 to KPW 7,000, so many people are “unhappy” because they cannot get as much money as they have been used to for their harvests, he added.

After the end of the blueberry harvest season each year, many people typically go to the mountains to pick omija (magnolia berries). This year, however, North Koreans are less optimistic than usual about exporting the berries, the source said.

“There are limits to how much can be consumed domestically,” the source said. “This year, however, trade companies and individuals are all finding it difficult [to export the berries] because of COVID-19.”

“Gentian, which is supposedly good for treating pain…is selling at a price similar to last year, but [merchants] are selling less than half of what they did last year,” the source said, adding, “Ultimately, even if the prices are the same, people aren’t making profits that are even half of last year.”

North Korean smugglers are refraining from conducting their activities not because they are worried about making money, but because they are concerned about getting infected by COVID-19, the source said, adding that the influx of military troops into the border region has “completely closed” the border.

“Some donju are now buying up medicinal plants that could make them money later, but it’s clear they are uneasy about the fall in medicinal plant prices these days,” the source further reported, using a term referring to North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.