Indonesia’s natural medicines: Jamu

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Indonesia, with its biodiversity has a lot of spices and herbs. Obviously, many are used to treat sickness, or simply to boost or maintain vitality. Natural ingredients are used here, afterall these are the medicine and the supplements before modern science bring all the lab-made drugs. This beverage is used to treat all kinds of ailments. Its energizing property is also well-known, Indonesia’s current President Joko Widodo famously confessed to drink Jamu every morning even since he was only a governor of Solo City.

If your imagination of Jamu takes the image of Chinese’s herbal medicines, you are half way right. In Indonesia, jamu used a lot of herbal ingredients, and only a few are animal-based. The most important part differentiating them; jamu is stored and served as liquid. It is the solution created from slow boiling natural ingredients. If you think this is going to be super bitter, worry not! Obviously the organic earthy taste lies in its very core. But natural sweetener such as honey, coconut sugar, palm sugar, or rock sugar can be added to make it tasty and offer more health benefit.


Bitterness shouldn’t be your worry, I would rather warn you for another thing instead, the kick! Obviously, no one is actually kicking you. I’m referring to the sharp taste that comes from the spices [personal pet peeve, not all spices is spicy, but there is no right word to describe it]. Some can warm your whole mouth and nasal cavity, while others might bring minty feeling.

Talking about its origin might be hard, as such culture exist since before formal written documentation. Just like any other indigenous drinks, local civilizations just somehow started to use local herbs for medical treatments. Based on some records on relics, local kingdom such as Mataram and Majapahit that existed in Java used it extensively. India’s Ayurveda influence is also visible, though many ingredients are more adapted based on local herbs. Regardless of its invention location, jamu is accessible all over Indonesia in one form or another.


A lot of ailments can be treated by jamu depending on the type. Some are used to treats tiredness, cold symptom, motion sickness, bloated, diabetes, high blood pressure, headache, fever, or menstruation pain or irregularity. Not only to treat sickness, reinforcing feature is used for sustaining physical stamina and boost immune system. Obviously, there are also gender based jamu, that acts as aphrodisiac and sexual enhancer for men (increasing stamina) and women (tightening). There are also all sorts of Jamu for mothers, one of them is to increase milk volume. Listing the jamu(s) will require a separated post.

In the past, jamu is easily accessible in major cities as jamu gendong. Gendong means “to carry”. This means that jamu is carried, which is a fitting name because a woman, called mbok jamu (jamu woman), is carrying it around. She will be bringing her basket made of bamboo with bottles that contain multiple types of jamu. You can talk to her about your health and she will recommend certain types of jamu to drink personally. She goes street by street for anyone that wants to drink jamu.

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Nowadays, jamu gendong is not that popular in developed cities, maybe jamu gendong survives in other cities. But don’t be dishearten, many jamu also survive the technology advance. Modernized Jamu sold in packages that can be served instantly by mixing it with water. Many companies also sell medicines and supplements that are based on jamu, which is more commonly found in pills and tablets.

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Another aspect of modernized jamu is the emergence of jamu cafe. It is just like a coffee shop, but this one is selling jamu. The interior is retro-styled, making it looks classy. This kind of shop helps to repopularize jamu to a younger generation. Which is unlike warung jamu at the side of street, this jamu cafe makes a great cool hangout place.

The future of jamu is unpredictable, but because of President Joko Widodo’s love of Jamu, the industry is being endorsed even as far as to aim exporting it. For me, I will look forward to it as these jamu accompanied me well in the sick days of my childhood.

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