Prickly Castor-Oil Tree
Eomnamu, or prickly castor-oil tree, particularly its thorny branches, are used in Korean folk religion to chase away evil spirits and illnesses.
Kalopanax septemlobus, common name prickly castor-oil tree, is a deciduous tree in the family Araliaceae, which grows around Korea, Japan and China. Its branches are prickly with thorns, believed to scare away evil spirits and diseases, and are hung over gates or room doors in homes at Seol (Lunar New Year).
Another related custom is to take malaria patients to forests dense with castor oil trees to pray for healing.
This tree is also used to chase away yagwanggwi, or night light ghost, which is believed to invade homes around Jeongwoldaeboreum (Great Full Moon) in the first lunar month. On the sixteenth day, observed as ghost day, hair collected around the house is burned and prickly castor-oil tree branches are attached to a strainer and hung on the wall. In some regions, these branches are hung horizontally on the living room wall when there is a contagious disease going around.
The use of thorny branches including acacia to chase away bad spirits from homes is also practiced by China’s ethnic minorities and by the Altai, Tuvan and Buryat peoples of Siberia.