Long before modern Western medicine were introduced, Indonesians manage to combat illnesses with traditional medicinal recipes.
Even now, many households still prefer these ancient recipes over modern way of medicines, while companies incorporate this old wisdom into today’s products.
From fever cures to weight-loss potions, Indonesia has many herbal drinks that are quite famous throughout the archipelago, which are defined and known in one word, jamu.
Jamu (old spelling ‘djamu’), a typical Indonesian herbal beverage is a traditional medicine from Indonesia which is a herbal medicine made from natural materials such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. Materials acquired from animals like honey, royal jelly, milk and ayam kampong eggs are also often used.
Jamu can be found troughout Indonesia, mostly in the Java Island where it is being sold by a ‘mbok jamu’, the traditional kain kebaya-wearing young to middle-aged (mostly) Javanese women carrying a bamboo basket filled with bottles of jamu on her back travelling villages and town alleys offering her fares of traditional herbal medicines.
The jamu herbal cuture is prevailing in Javanese courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, where the ancient book of herbal medicine is kept in royal library and jamu medicine is prescribes to royalties and nobles in Javanese keratons. According to Javanese tradition, the fame beauty of putrid keraton (princess and palace ladies) are owed to jamu and lulur (traditional lotion).
Jamu is claimed to have originated in the Mataram Kingdom era, some 1300 years ago. The stone mortar and pestle with long cylindrical stone mortar- the type commonly used in today’s traditional jamu making, was discovered in Liyangan archaeological site on the slopes of Mount Sundoro Central Java. The site and relics are dated from Medang Mataram kingdom era circa 8th to 10th century which suggest that the herbal medicine tradition od jamu had already taken hold by then.
Jamu is often distributed in the form of powder, pills, capsules and drinking liquid. Jamu shops, which only sells ingredients or prepare the jamu on spot as required by buyers, as well as women roaming the streets selling jamu is commonly seen way to distribute jamu in Indonesia.
Despite the rapid growth of heathcare technology in Indonesia, the existence of jamu is still dominant. Jamu is still believed as an important remedy for any kind of diseases. For children, there is beras kencur (rice and aromatic galangal jamu), which is usually given for children to increase their appetite. For teenage girls it is kunyit asam (tamarind and turmeric jamu) to cure menstrual cramps.
Even for married women, there are several kinds of jamu for them, and each of them has their own benefit. In several areas in Indonesia, women in postnatal period need to consume certain kind of jamu to recover their health (or even their body shape) after gave birth to a baby. There’s even a special package of postnatal jamu that can be easily found over the counter.
Traditional jamu is also known to cure cancer. A 2011 study by Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology on the soursop tree—whose leaves are used to relieve arthritis in Indonesia—found evidence that extracts from soursop fruit inhibit the growth of human breast cancer. Several alkaloids found in Madagascar Periwinkle are also proved to increase the survival rate of children with leukemia, and turmeric is being looked as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.
There are hundreds of herbs for jamu prescriptions, some are from:
- Roots like Bengle (zingiber brevifolium), Ginger (zingiber officinale), Kencu Aromatic Galangal, Kunyit Turmeric, Lempuyang (zingiber zerumbet), Lengkuas or Laos Greater Galangal, Temulawak (curcuma xanthorrhiza).
- Leaves like Brotowali (tinospora crispa), Sambang Darah (excoecaria bicolor), Secang (caesalpina sappan)
- Seeds like Adas (foeniculum vulgare)
- Fruits like Ceplukan cutleaf groundcherry (physalis angulata), Jeruk nipis Hey Lime (citrus aurantifolia), Nyamplung or Kosambi (calophyllum inophyllum), Mengkudu (javanica noni)
- Barks like Kayu manis cinnamon (cinnamomum burmanni)
- Flowers like Ilang-ilang Ylang ylang (cananga odorata), Melati (jasmine), Rumput alang-alang (gramineae)
While the Non-Herbal elements of Jamu which are acquired from animals are :
- Insects like honey, royal jelly, bee larvae, certain types of insects including larvae, ant nest
- Cattles & Dairy products like milks from various species inc. cows, buffaloes, goats and horses, goat’s bile
- Poultry like ayam kampong eggs
- Sea creatures like dried seahorse, dried sea cucumber
Often found in Asian cooking receipt, turmeric is also cherished for its anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Combined with tamarind, the turmeric acid herbal is a proven remedy for menstrual pain, inflammation, high blood pressure, and more. Many also count on this herbal to lose weight. To make this beverage, brew shredded or powdered turmeric and tamarind in the same amount, add palm sugar and a little salt to taste.
Temulawak, or Java ginger, is a spice plant native to Indonesia and for centuries it has been observed to yield several health benefits. Temulawak drinks have been used to relieve nausea, dizziness, and symptoms of cold. But perhaps the most common use for this herb is to improve appetite, especially for children. To make a temulawak potion, mash temulawak and brew with tamarind and palm sugar, keep it boiling until only half the water remains.
Pahitan is derived from the word ’pahit’ that means bitter. Basically an assortment of bitter things, this herbal drink incorporates various leaves, mainly sambiloto, but also brotowali, meniran, lempuyang, and others in smaller measure. This traditional medicine is predictably notorious for its unpleasant taste, but its efficacy has stood the test of time in helping with high blood sugar, cholesterol, and the digestive system. It also helps with smaller discomfort like open wounds, fever, stiffness, and headache.
Jamu Galian singset
This herbal drink has one of the most coveted words in its name: ‘singset’ means slim or lean. And that effect is what makes this traditional recipe so popular, especially among women. But more than that, many people swear by other benefits like better skin, aromatic body scent, and more toned female organs. This recipe uses temulawak, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, and cinnamon, mixed with tamarind, coriander, and pepper, all mashed together and boiled.
Two main ingredients for this herbal drink are laos (galangal) and mengkudu (Morinda citrifolia or cheese fruit). Other than the pleasantly warming effect to the body, this traditional herbal drink also helps relieve various stomach discomforts including menstrual cramps. Kudu-Laos is good for both children and adults.
If consumed regularly, it can also help with hypertension and improving appetite. To make this recipe, mince laos and mengkudu then brew them together. You can also add other ingredients such as tamarind, garlic, puyang chili, salt, and pepper according to taste.
This herbal remains one of Indonesia’s favorite not only for the health benefits, but also for the fresh and delicious taste. Kencur, also known as aromatic ginger or sand ginger, is rich in zinc and other minerals, making it a common ingredient for various traditional cooking and medicinal recipes throughout Asia.
Combined with rice and other spices, the herbal drink helps with cholesterol, inflammation, and overall immune system. To make the rice and kecur herbal, first you’ll have to prepare the rice grains by soaking them for three hours. Brew kencur with a little turmeric, tamarind, ginger, and palm sugar. After the water boils, take all the ingredients and mash them together, then brew once more.
Orthosiphon aristatus or cat’s whiskers or Java tea, is a tropical medicinal herb that is often used in medicine recipes, both traditional and modern. Its popularity is partly due to the immense availability and low maintenance, so anyone can grow these in their own backyard, but also for the rich nutrients.
There are different recipes for different symptoms that this plant can help treat. But for the most part, brewing the plant is enough to make a traditional medicine that helps with diabetes, high blood pressure, fever, even STDs. Kumis kucing drink is also safe to consume every day until the symptoms are relieved.
Javanese chili herbal
This herbal uses Piper retrofractum, also known as puyang chili, Javanese chili, Javanese long pepper, or Balinese long pepper. Often used as spice and seasoning in traditional meals, this herb is also effective to treat soreness or stiffness in the body. The abundance of iron and other nutritions also help the body to produce more red blood cells and prevent anemia. To make this herbal drink, you can mash or chop the chili, or dry it before, then boil with water. Add honey or palm sugar to taste according to your preference.
In South Sulawesi, where this drink originated, locals enjoy this beverage daily, and during special occasions as well. This recipe includes a number of spices, making sarabba ideal to help keep the body warm during cold weather.
More than the tasty flavor and warming properties, sarabba is also known to have helped with flu and improve stamina and body immunity. To make a spicy, delicious glass of sarabba, boil water with chops of ginger, lemongrass, and cinnamon. Then add palm sugar and pepper, then coconut milk. Continue boiling for another 10 minutes. At the last minute, add egg yolk on top and you can serve directly.
Jamu Sugar Ginger
Artisan herbal sling usually always have a bottle of ginger sugar that serves to add sweetness to the other types of herbal medicine. But the content of ginger in this type of herbal medicine also has properties, i.e treating coughs and maintain stamina.
Jamu has been an affordable and no side effect remedies for people in Indonesia for a very long time. It’s not only used for health but also for cosmetic purpose. There are several local cosmetic manufacturers in Indonesia that use traditional jamu formula as body scrub, facial wash, even foundation that packed in hygienic and ready-to-use package.
Either jamu gendong or jamu hawker stalls, both of them will provide you with this unique traditional herbal medicine. The vendor masters the jamu formula and knows what you need.
It is really a must-try!