Jamu, a Worldwide-famous Traditional Indonesian Herbal Potion

The healthy culture of drinking jamu (herbal medicine) has become a tradition for Indonesian people, which is maintained to this day. Even though times are increasingly modern, many Indonesians still drink jamu for treatment or to maintain fitness. Amazingly, Indonesian jamu is increasingly going global, thanks to the designation of jamu as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

The designation of the healthy culture of jamu as an Intangible Cultural Heritage was discussed at the 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Kasane, Republic of Botswana, on Wednesday, December 6, 2023. This achievement also placed the healthy culture of jamu as Indonesia’s 13th Intangible Cultural Heritage.

According to the indonesia.go.id page, UNESCO considers the healthy culture of jamu as a means of cultural expression and building connections between humans and nature and is in line with UNESCO’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

History of Indonesian “Jamu”

Searching for the meaning of the word “jamu”, Sobat Parekraf will find a lot of literature regarding the meaning and significance of herbal medicine. Some interpret jamu as a combination of “Java” and “ngramu”, meaning a potion made by Javanese people. Another theory states that “jamu” comes from the Old Javanese language “Djampi”, a healing method using herbal ingredients.

Photo: Traditional herbal medicine seller (Shutterstock/Shalstock)

According to jalurrempah.kemdikbud.go.id, jamu has been around since the Mataram Kingdom era. This is evidenced by illustrations similar to making jamu in various sites, such as the Liyangan archaeological site, temple reliefs, and the Madhawapura inscription, which mentions jamu maker as “Acaraki”.

The development of jamu as a drink and herbal concoction continued until the colonial era. Interestingly, quoting from National Geographic Indonesia, in the 17th century, a scientist named Jacobus Bontius used jamu to treat the Governor General of the VOC, Jan Pieterszoon Coen.

As time passed, there have been many jamu, but the most popular jamu among Indonesians is jamu gendong. It is called “jamu gendong” since it is sold by carrying a basket containing bottles of jamu. It is said that the pioneer of the term “jamu gendong” came from the Nguter area, Sukoharjo, Central Java.

Indonesia is Rich in Jamu Raw Materials

The use of jamu as one of the typical herbal ingredients in Indonesia, which UNESCO has recognized, is also supported by various natural resources, including typical Indonesian spices, as the main raw material for making jamu.

According to data from Riset Tumbuhan Obat dan Jamu (RISTOJA) conducted by the Indonesian Ministry of Health, there are 32,013 traditional medicinal herbs and 2,848 plant species as raw materials for jamu.

Made from natural spices, it is not surprising that jamu has many benefits for our bodies. Based on notes in Serat Centhini (1814-1823), various medicinal plants used as raw materials for jamu can treat several types of diseases, such as fever, worm diseases, smallpox, nerve-related diseases, coughs, and even sore eyes.

Seeing this historical record, we should preserve the healthy culture of jamu as one of Indonesia’s original Intangible Cultural Heritage. Do you often drink jamu, Sob?

Cover: Drinking jamu has become a culture in Indonesia (Shutterstock/Edi Sutriyono)