Jamu (formerly Djamu) is traditional medicine in Indonesia. It is predominantly herbal medicine made from natural materials, such as parts of plants such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. Materials acquired from animals, such as honey, milk, Ayam Kampung eggs and goat's bile, are also often used.
Jamu can be found throughout Indonesia, however it is most prevalent in Java, where Mbok Jamu, the traditional kain kebaya-wearing young to middle-aged Javanese woman carrying bamboo basket filled with bottles of jamu on her back, travelling villages and towns alleys, offering her fares of traditional herbal medicine. In many large cities jamu herbal medicine is sold on the street by hawkers carry a refreshing drink, usually bitter but sweetened with honey or palm sugar. The traditional method on carrying the jamu in basket is called Jamu Gendong (lit. carried jamu), however today some jamu seller might ride bicycle. There is also modest street-side warung tent stall that specializing on selling jamus. Herbal medicine is also produced in factories by large companies such as Air Mancur, Nyonya Meneer or Djamu Djago, and sold at various drug stores in sachet packaging. Packaged dried jamu should be dissolved in hot water first before drinking. Nowadays herbal medicine is also sold in the form of tablets, caplets and capsules.
It is claimed to have originated in the Mataram Kingdom some 1300 years ago. Though heavily influenced by Ayurveda from India, Indonesia is a vast archipelago with numerous indigenous plants not found in India, and include plants similar to Australia beyond the Wallace Line. Jamu may vary from region to region, and often not written down, especially in remote areas of the country.
Jamu was (and is) practiced by indigenous physicians (dukuns). However, it is generally prepared and prescribed by women, who sell it on the streets. Generally, the different jamu prescriptions are not written down but handed down between the generations. Some early handbooks, however, have survived. A jamu handbook that was used in households throughout the Indies was published in 1911 by Mrs. Kloppenburg-Versteegh.
One of the first European physicians to study jamu was Jacobus Bontius (Jacob de Bondt), who was a physician in Batavia (today's Jakarta) in the early seventeenth century. His writings contain information about indigenous medicine. A comprehensive book on indigenous herbal medicine in the Indies was published by Rumphius, who worked on Ambon during the early eighteenth century. He published a book called Herbaria Amboinesis (The Ambonese Spice Book). During the nineteenth century, European physicians had a keen interest in jamu, as they often did not know how to treat the diseases they encountered in their patients in the Indies. The German physician Carl Waitz published on jamu in 1829. In the 1880s and 1890s, A.G. Vorderman published extensive accounts on jamu as well. Pharmacological research on herbal medicine was undertaken by M. Greshoff and W.G. Boorsma at the pharmacological laboratory at the Bogor Botanical Garden
Popularity among physicians
Indonesian physicians were initially not very interested in jamu. During the second conference of the Indonesian Association of Physicians, held in Solo in March 1940, two presentations on the topic were given. During the Japanese occupation, Indonesia's Jamu Committee was formed in 1944. During the following decades, the popularity of jamu increased, although physicians had rather ambivalent opinions about it.
Jamu is often distributed in the form of powder, pills, capsules, and drinking liquid. Jamu shops, which sell only ingredients or prepare the jamu on spot as required by buyers, as well as women roaming the street to sell jamu, is a commonly seen way to distribute jamu in Indonesia. Nowadays, Jamu is also mass manufactured and exported. There are often concerns as to quality, consistency, and cleanliness in not only the locally distributed but also manufactured forms.
There are a few non-health related uses for jamu, which give it a bad reputation, among others, those which are used to enhance sexual pleasure rather than specifically cure illness. There are kinds of Jamu to increase sexual stamina for men, tighten the vagina for women (with names like Sari Rapat (“Essence of Tightness”), Rapat Wangi (“Tight and Fragrant”), and even Empot Ayam (“Tight as a Chicken’s Anus”). Of course in a Muslim country these products are considered by some to be sinful, though many women consume it for such reasons to ward off promiscuity.
Herbs for Jamu
There are hundreds of herbs for jamu prescriptions, some are:
- Adas (Foeniculum vulgare Mill)
- Kayu Manis Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii)
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- Jamu Beras Kencur (kaempferia galangal rice or sand ginger rice) helps to reduce body ache
- Jamu Cabe Puyang (chili and lempuyang rhizome) for elimination of stiffness or fever.
- Jamu Gendong is usually sold by carrying a basket of bottled handmade jamus
- Jamu Kudu Laos for lowering blood pressure, improving blood circulation, warming the body, increasing appetite.
- Jamu Kunci Suruh for candidiasis, tighten the vagina, eliminates body odor, shrink the uterus and stomach, and is said to strengthen the teeth.
- Jamu Kunir Asam (sour turmeric) for to cool the body (sakit panas) or facilitate menstruation
- Jamu Pahitan for itching and diabetes, lack of appetite, eliminate body odor, lower cholesterol, abdominal bloating, acne, and dizziness.
- Jamu Sinom like jamu kunir asam with the addition of young tamarind leaves
- Jamu Uyup-uyup/Gepyokan for increasing breast milk production and to cool the body.
- The Jamu Shop:What is Jamu
- Susan-Jane Beers, Jamu: The Ancient Indonesian Art of Herbal Healing (Hong Kong: Periplus, 2001)
- Njonja E. van Gent-Detelle. Boekoe Obat-Obat Voor [Sic] Orang Toewa Dan Anak-Anak [Medicine Boek for Adults and Children], (Djocjacarta: Buning, 1875); Njonja van Blokland, Doekoen Djawa: Oetawa Kitab Dari Roepa-Roepa Obat Njang Terpake Di Tanah Djawa [Javanese Dukun or Book with Various Kinds of Medicine in Use on Java] (Batavia Albrecht & Co. , 1899).
- J. Kloppenburg-Versteegh, Wenken en Raadgevingen Betreffende het Gebruik Van Indische Planten, Vruchten Enz. [Guidance and Advice Regarding the Use of Indies Plants, Fruits, Etc.], 2 vols. (Semarang: G.C.T. van Dorp, 1911).
- Bontius, Jacobus, De medicina Indorum, Leyden: Franciscus Hackius, Lugduni Batavorum, 1642.
- Georgius Everardus Rumphius, Het Amboinsche Kruidboek (Herbarium Aboinense) Amsterdam: Francois Changuion & Hermanus Uytwerf, 6 volumes
- F.A.C. Waitz, Praktische waarnemingen over eenige Javaansche geneesmiddelen [Practical observations on a number of Javanese medications], Amsterdam: C.G. Sulpke, 1829).
- Hans Pols, "European Botanists and Physicians, Indigenous Herbal Medicine in the Dutch East Indies, and Colonial Networks of Mediation," East Asian Science, Technology, and Society: An International Journal 3, no. 2-3 (2009): 173-208.
- Seno Sastroamidjojo, Obat Asli Indonesia (Indigenous Indonesian Medicine) (Djakarta: Penerbit Kebangsaan Pustaka Rakjat Djakarta, 1948).