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Jamu (old spelling Djamu) is a traditional medicine from Indonesia. It is predominantly a herbal medicine made from natural materials, such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. Materials acquired from animals, such as honey, royal jelly, milk and ayam kampung eggs 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, can be found. 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 of carrying the jamu in basket is called Jamu Gendong (lit. carried jamu). However today, some jamu sellers might ride a bicycle. There is also modest street-side warung tent stall/ that specialize in selling jamu.
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. These jamu brands are united in an Indonesian Herbal and Traditional Medicine Association, locally known as Gabungan Pengusaha Jamu (GP Jamu). Today, jamu is a growing local herbal medicine industry worth millions of dollars. In 2014, Jamu contributes Rp 3 trillion (US$73.29 million) to overall sales.
Traditional production centers
Despite jamu's popularity throughout Indonesia, it seems that jamu culture is most prevalent in Java. The jamu herbal culture is prevailing in Javanese royal courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta; where the ancient books on herbal medicine is kept in royal library, and jamu medicine is prescribes to royalties and nobles in Javanese keratons. According to Javanese tradition, the famed beauty of putri keraton (princess and palace ladies) are owed to jamu and lulur (traditional lotion).
Sukoharjo in Central Java in particular is believed to be one of the center of jamu tradition. Many of the Mbok Jamu jamu sellers ladies are hailed from this town. The traditional jamu herbal traders in Sukoharjo has established the statue of jamu seller as Sukoharjo's identity in Bulakrejo. Commonly called "jamu herbal seller statue" it depicts a farmer and a jamu gendong herbalist carrying her wares. Sukoharjo regions, particularly sub-district Nguter, is known as the place of origin of Mbok Jamu gendong herbalist in many big cities, such as Jakarta, Bandung, Bogor, and Surabaya.
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 slope 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 of jamu already took its roots by then. The bas-reliefs on Borobudur depicts the image of people ground something with stone mortar and pestle, drink seller, physician and masseuse treating their clients. All of these scenes might be interpreted as a traditional herbal medicine and health-related treatments in ancient Java. The Madhawapura inscription from Majapahit period mentioned a specific profession of herbs mixer and combiner (herbalist), called Acaraki. The medicine book from Mataram dated from circa 1700 contains 3,000 entries of jamu recipes, while Javanese classical literature Serat Centhini (1814) describes some jamu herbal concoction recipes.
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
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.
Indonesia — home to highly diversified herbs products — expects domestic sales of herbal and traditional medicine, including food supplements and cosmetics, to expand by 15 percent by 2014 to Rp 15 trillion (US$1.23 billion) compared to 2013, due to its increasingly health-conscious middle-income bracket, according to the Indonesian Herbal and Traditional Medicine Association (Gabungan Pengusaha Jamu/GP Jamu). Jamu contributes Rp 3 trillion (US$73.29 million) to overall sales.
Several Indonesian leading figures are known as the endorser of jamu herbal products, including former first lady Tien Soeharto, business figures Mooryati Soedibyo and Jaya Suprana, also President Joko Widodo. Joko admitted that he had consumed the herbal medicine, locally known as temulawak jahe or ginger curcuma, for 17 years, which he believed has helped him in his daily activities as well as to repair the liver and digestive functions.
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, 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”). Because of Indonesia being a Muslim country these products are considered only suitable for married women.
Herbs for Jamu
There are hundreds of herbs for jamu prescriptions, some are:
- Adas (Foeniculum vulgare Mill)
- Kayu Manis Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii)
Non-herbal elements of Jamu
Non-herbal materials acquired from animals are also often used in jamu mixture. Among others are:
- Cattles and dairy product
- Sea creatures
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