Monday, April 02, 2007

Indonesia "Jamu" : An alternative theraphy



If you came to Indonesia to search alternative medicine out off hospital, you will find many kind traditional healing process there. Such as acupuncture (from Chinese), bekam (Arabic), etc - but still the number one famous in Indonesia is jamu (original from Indonesia). Indonesia is a fascinating country, with many local traditions, customs and beliefs. People are often superstitious and even believe in black magic.

Meanwhile Indonesia has the world’s largest biodiversity reservoir with around 140 million hectares of rainforest. Therefore, nature is deeply rooted in the life of the people culturally, socially and economically. Traditional herbal medicine derived from leaves, fruits, roots, seeds, flowers or tree barks, has been widely used since ancient times.1)

Indonesia is the world’s second richest megacenter of biodiversity, after Brazil. The country, comprising over 17,000 islands, covers only 1.3 per cent of the earth’s surface, but it contains almost 15 per cent of all higher plants and a significant share of the world’s fauna. According to the country study on biodiversity in 2003, the number of species of flowering plants in Indonesia is between 25,000 and 30,000, and 10 per cent of the total flora of Indonesia is thought to have medicinal value. Around 40 million people depend directly on the country’s biodiversity, and the communities make use of around 6000 plant species.

With a population of over 220 million people, Indonesia has at least 336 different cultures, speaking more than 250 languages. Thanks to this diverse culture, Indonesia has many different varieties of traditional medicine, depending on the local geography, ethnic groups and the historical processes of the communities. However, jamu, which originated in Java, and probably dates back to the construction of the world-famous Borobudur Temple in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, is the most wide-spread form of traditional medicine in the country.

There are thousands of jamu ladies roaming Indonesia’s narrow streets and kampongs (hamlets), offering a glass of freshly prepared herbal medicine, which is usually mixed with raw egg and honey. In addition to the ‘mobile’ jamu ladies, there are also many jamu stalls almost everywhere.

Apart from homemade fresh jamu, the jamu vendors also offer herbal medicine produced by jamu manufacturers. At present, one could easily buy ready-made jamu packed in powder form, as pills, capsules, tonics, oil and ointments. Jamu is used to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from fatigue and headache to malaria. It also supplies the body with vitamin C, cleanses the blood, keeps the body in good shape, and makes the skin smooth.2)

'Back to nature' is not merely a slogan in Java and Indonesia. The visible proof is the use of traditional herbal medicine of various type of 'medical plants', either from the leaves, the fruits, the roots, the flowers or the barks, etc. These herbal medicine had been used since the ancient time up to now, it is largely consumed by people of different level; lower, middle and upper, in the villages and in the big cities.

The study of jamu had been conducted by Rumphius, a botanist as early as the year 1775 AD by publishing a book 'Herbaria Amboinesis'. A scientific research for jamu by the research center of herbal medicine in Bogor Botanical Garden, resulting a publication of a book 'Medical Book for Children and Adults', composed by E. Van Bent.

The first seminar about jamu has been held in Solo in 1940, followed by a Formation of Indonesia's Jamu Committee in 1944. In the 1966, a seminar on jamu was held again. In 1981, a book by title of 'The use of Medical Plants' was established to support the jamu industry in the country. The method of using the jamu remains the same as the ancestors did. Some are consumed by drinking it and some are for outside application.

At present one could buy easily ready made jamu packed modernly in the form of powder, pills, capsules, drinking liquid and ointments. Of course there are still jamu shops, which sell only ingredients or prepare the jamu on spot as required by buyers. Some women are roaming the street to sell jamu, is a common view across the country. 3)


The number of smaller businesses involved in the manufacture of jamu exploded in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. By 1998, nearly 700 firms making traditional medicines were registered with the Department of Health. Seventy nine of these were classed as industries proper, the remainder as small (often home) industries. This number does not include the many tiny household enterprises that operate without formal approval.

However, the commercial production of jamu is dominated by a few large companies. These firms generally began as family businesses but over time expanded into modern industries manufacturing jamu for both domestic and export markets. The earliest companies were Jamu Cap Jago founded in 1918 and jamu nyonya meneer founded in 1919. Other main players in the jamu business have been Sido Muncul (1951), Air Mancur (1963), and more recent firms such as Mustika Ratu (1975), Sari Ayu (1979), as well as Deltomed and Borobodur.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the big jamu brands were still widely advertised at markets and fairs by teams of travelling salesmen. By the early 1980s, when the network of local distributors and agents was already well developed and the main brands were well known, the marketing strategies of the four biggest firms shifted to kiosks. Tens of thousands of kiosks were opened throughout Java and jamu companies ran training courses for their agents and sellers. The brand kiosks still exist, many in somewhat changed form, but many more kiosks of different sorts have opened over the last few years in both urban and rural areas. Kiosk owners often function as ‘consultant pharmacists’ giving advice on what jamu to take for specified ailments or needs. Local healers may write ‘prescriptions’ suggesting what jamu should be purchased at a brand kiosks. 5)

Nowadays, there are around 997 traditional medicine manufacturers in Indonesia, and 98 of them are industries. A few of the big jamu industries have exported their products such as cosmetics, oils and herbal medicines for women and babies to Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Europe, the United States, and several Middle Eastern countries.

The proceeds of the herbal medicine sales domestically reached around 2 trillion Indonesian Rupiahs (Rp) annually or about US$225 million, and its export value was only US$5 million, according to data from the Indonesian Food and Medicine Supervisory Body (POM) in 2002. The figure was very small compared with China’s domestic sale value at US$5 billion and its export at US$1 billion. The demand for herbal diet supplements alone is estimated to be worth US$43 billion annually in the global market.

“Business opportunities for traditional medicines are very promising, both in the domestic and international markets. We have not tapped it maximally,” said Eng. Asyiantini, the organizing committee chairman of the Indonesian Biopharmacy Exhibition and Congress (IBEC) that was held in Yogyakarta from July 14 to 18, 2004. She said that the herbal medicine industry uses only around 500 species out of the total 7,000 known medicinal plants available in the country.

Meanwhile, according to Charles Saerang, secretary general of the Indonesian Traditional Herbal Medicines Producers Association (GPJTI), it is quite ironic that in herbal medicine production, the country falls far behind countries such as China, KoreaJapan. Political will from the government is a must for the country to rapidly develop the traditional medicine industry if Indonesia wants to compete with other countries.


Many Indonesian women use jamu for traditional cosmetic, such as brand name nyonya meneer and mustika ratu. In principle there are several types of jamu. For example, one type maintains physical fitness and health, and another type treats various kinds of illness. Jamu for babies is also available, usually in oil form. There are also herbal cosmetics to maintain the natural beauty of women, and special jamu for pregnant women during the pre- and post-natal periods.

An estimated 80 percent of the Indonesian population has tried jamu at some stage of their lives. For Indonesian women, jamu is considered essential to keep them young and beautiful for their husbands. Drinking jamu is a must for women after giving birth, although some might hate its bitter taste. A special treatment for women in their post-natal period is usually a combination of massage, body wraps and tonics to help them regain their figures and eliminate stretch marks.

Almost every woman is concerned that her physical appearance always remains slim and beautiful with an alluring bright smiling face. As a Javanese idiom says, “Ngadi Sarira”, or “to maintain the body to be always in a perfect condition is of prime importance.”

In Javanese culture, the ladies of the royal families have a reputation of inheriting the beauty of goddesses from paradise. Nowadays, many women from outside the palace walls know some secrets of the royal palace culture of Ngadi Sarira. Jamu is widely used to give an inner beauty, which is thought to result from good physical health.

Some jamu products are consumed directly by drinking or eating it. For instance, eating kepel fruit (a brown fruit of a chicken egg size) gives the body - and even the urine - a fragrant odor similar to that of the fruit itself. Some traditional cosmetics include bedak dingin (a cool powder made from tendered rice with special ingredients such as pandanus and kenanga flower) and lulur bathing powder for scrubbing. Finally, a hair oil called cemceman, made of coconut oil with pandanus, kenanga flower, jeruk purut etc. is applied

Among common herbs used in jamu prescriptions are ginger (Zingiber officinale), wild ginger (Curcuma cautkeridza), turmeric (Curcuma domestica), greater galingale (Kaempferia galanga), kumis kucing (Orthosiphon aristatus), bengle (Zingiber bevifalium), secang (Caesalpinia sappan hinn), brotowali (Tiospora rumpii boerl), calamondin (Citrae aurantifalia sivingle), cinnamon (Gijeyzahyza glabra), and alang-alang (Gramineae).

JAMU NOT DRUGS ? What kind of disease could jamu cure?

The reply is almost every disease, jamu could cure. There are various kinds of jamu to combat different kind of illness. In Principle there are two types of jamu; the first is jamu to maintain physical fitness and health, the locally popular are Galian Singset (to keep women body fit and slim) and Sehat Lelaki (to keep men body healthy). The second is jamu to cure various kinds of illness. Except the above, there are special jamu created with the purpose to maintain a loving family harmony. The popular products among other are Sari Rapet, which makes a women sexual organ in a good condition, as for the man the matched product is jamu Kuat Lekaki (strong man). The Javanese are also taking a great care to pregnant women during pre and postnatal period by producing the related jamu. There are also jamu for the babies. 3)

The most glaring differences between Jamu and Modern medicine is in material. Jamu uses many kinds of nature herbs, even modern medicines from synthetic alchemy compound. So, Jamu has relatively fewer side effects than modern medicine. In other word Jamu has no alcohols, no narcotics, and no side effects. 6)

The Indonesian people like to consume jamu due to :

  1. Availability in many places
  2. Comparatively cheap price
  3. No side effects
  4. Not IV therapy, only oral or topical. 4)

There are hundreds of herbs for jamu prescriptions, among other are:

Spices such as : Ginger (Zingiber Officinale), Lempuyang (Zingiber Oronaticum), Temu Lawak/ Wild Ginger (Curcuma Cautkeridza), Kunyit/ Tumeric (Curcuma Domestica), Kencur/ Greater, Galingale (Kaemferi Galanga), Lengkuas/ Ginger Plant (Elpina Galanga), Bengle (Zingiber Bevifalium)

Leaves such as : Secang (Caesalpinia Sappan Hinn), Sambang Dara (Rexco Ecaria Bicolar Hassk), Brotowali (Tiospora Rumpii Boerl), Adas (Foeniculum Vulgare Mill)

Fruits such as : Jeruk Nipis/ Calamondin (Citrae Aurantifalia Sivingle), Ceplukan (Physalic Angulata Him), Nyamplung (Calophylum Inaphyllu)

Kayu Manis/ Cinamon (Gijeyzahyza Glabra)

Flowers such as : Melati/ Yasmin (Jataninum Sunbac Ait), Rumput Alang-alang (Gramineae) 4)



2 ) Hani Mumtazah

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