- The Ancient Indonesian Art of Herbal Healing -

By Susan-Jane Beers

Published by Tuttle Publishing, an imprint of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd


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Book Details
 206 p
 File Size 
 5,813 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 978-1-4629-1017-5 (ebook)
 2001 Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd
 Text © Susan-Jane Beers

An Introduction to Jamu
Indonesian jamu—part of an integrated system of inner and outer health and
beauty, encompassing powders, pills, ointments, lotions, massage and ancient
folklore—is unknown to most Westerners. How, when, where, and why were
these treatments developed? And, what is so special about them?
To understand jamu, you must know a little about the extraordinary country
where it originated. Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are home to over 200 million
people who speak approximately 600 different languages. The national motto,
‘Unity in Diversity’, is certainly appropriate in an archipelago where each region
still retains its individual customs and character.

In today’s world, young Indonesians no longer have the time for old
traditions, such as making fabric by hand, playing in a gamelan orchestra (a
traditional Indonesian orchestral group) or preparing herbal medicines. These
were all part of a relaxed, holistic way of life that allowed for any number of
variations throughout the archipelago. Now modern Indonesians must come to
terms with a fiercely competitive, high-tech environment where survival lies in
joining the fast-paced global economy in which we live.

At first glance, it seems that jamu is a casualty of this modern world.
Making jamu in the home has certainly declined, but in its place, the herbal
medicine and cosmetics industry is expanding and is now producing some
exciting ranges of safe, hygienically prepared, health and beauty treatments. The
industry was slow in developing, because there was, for many years, a reluctance
to share secrets. However, attitudes are changing because rapid industrialization
has led, somewhat paradoxically, to an increased demand for traditional medicine.

In former times, mothers handed down the secrets of these healing recipes
to their daughters. Those who were skilled at preparing jamu were consulted by
their neighbours; and demand eventually resulted in small family businesses.
These were the forerunners of cottage industries, which in turn have become
today’s conglomerates. Now, production has moved away from the home into
well-equipped modern factories and it has become relatively easy to buy what
Westerners might perceive as mysterious lotions, pills and concoctions in
mainstream retail outlets. Also, for the first time, these herbal remedies are
available outside Indonesia.

This book gives an all-round introduction to Indonesia’s herbal medicines,
treatments and cosmetics. All concoctions are simple, practical, exotic and rarely
expensive. The ancient Javanese art of health and beauty is a combination of
inner and outer beauty with an holistic approach. Although modern medicine and
beauty experts seem to have just discovered this idea, the Javanese have
practised it for centuries. Herbal preparations and massage continue to thrive
because Indonesians know they work.

In the pages of this book you will learn about the closed world of the
ancient Javanese kraton (palace) where Indonesian jamu was perfected. You can
meet the healers and jamu makers whose skills have been passed from
generation to generation and learn about their cures. But if you are looking for a
precise, scientific account of inner and outer beauty, you will not find it here, as
no such thing exists, for reasons that will become clear. Advice is offered on
where to find these age-old remedies, and the Appendix provides formulæ that
can be safely made at home. The information here is for people who wish to find
out more about Indonesian health and beauty, draw their own conclusions and
even try jamu for themselves.

My personal experiences whilst living and researching herbal medicine in
Indonesia changed my attitude from one of scepticism to the belief that, if
correctly chosen and sensibly used, jamu is effective. This shift in attitude was
the result of a chain reaction. Walking round Indonesia’s towns and cities means
braving heat, humidity, reckless drivers, exhaust fumes and persistent street
sellers. These factors, coupled with the virtual lack of pavements, actively
discourage any form of normal exercise. As a result of my inactivity, the
weighing scales and waistline soon indicated drastic action was required. I opted
for aerobics in an air-conditioned gym. However, at the age of 42, my body
could not cope with the new regime. Initial stiffness gave way to crippling pain
in the knee joints. I then faced three options: stop taking painkillers and exercise
with pain; keep on loading my system with drugs; or give up aerobics and
become fat. The painkillers won and I kept on exercising.

Then, one day, a visit to the hairdresser changed everything. As my hair
was being styled, I noticed a herbal medicine clinic in a corner of the salon.
After explaining my problem to the salesgirl, she referred me to the clinic doctor.
As it turned out, the doctor was a professor of pharmacy as well as an expert on
Indonesian traditional herbal medicine. My amazement was compounded when
the clinic phoned just two days later to say the medicine was ready. I received
two small bottles of tiny pills, and was warned not to expect instant results as the
medication worked on the principle of ‘slow but sure’.

Having dutifully swallowed ten tiny pills for two mornings in succession, I
carried on with my daily exercise class, and, astonishingly, by the third day I was
out of pain. I simply could not believe it and dismissed this apparent miracle as
sheer fluke. It was all the more remarkable as I had decided to err on the side of
caution and had only taken one-third of the recommended daily dose.
Sceptically, I continued with the same self-prescribed dose and waited for the
pain to return. It didn’t. Six months later, I was still pain free.
Impressed and by now intrigued, I was keen to learn more about jamu and
tried to buy a book on the subject. I could not find one in English, however, and
those written in Indonesian seemed to contain only recipes. Wanting to find out
more, I took a trip to Central Java where I met jamu maker, Ibu Sri. During my
visit she led me into her dark kitchen where she did most of her work. She
explained her methods, then said: “You must try my jamu.”
Inwardly I hesitated, for the kitchen walls were lined with filthy black
woks, or so I thought, until Ibu Sri pulled one off its hook and turned it over to
reveal a gleaming interior. Why on earth did she clean only the inside, I
wondered, puzzled, until she explained: “Of course we allow layers of charcoal
to build up on the outside of pans so they retain heat.” I nodded sagely and kept
quiet. When my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, I realized that the whole
area, though primitive, was a model of hygiene. Ibu Sri interrupted my musings
by offering my companion a tumbler full of khaki-coloured liquid. He downed it
in a single gulp, sighed with relish and complimented Ibu Sri on her brew.
Then it was my turn. First I sampled Beras Kencur, which was spicy and
delicious. But when Ibu Sri began to stir a green mixture in the wok and scoop
ladles of it into a glass, I became anxious. I knew for sure things were bad when
a miniature glass of sweet liquid was set down alongside it. (A sugared drink is
the antidote served when the jamu is particularly bitter.) “The Pegal Linu,” Ibu
Sri announced with aplomb, oblivious to my distress (‘pegal’ means stiff; ‘linu’
is rheumatic; therefore ‘pegal linu’ translates as ‘stiffness caused by rheumatism’
and is prescribed to alleviate aches and pains.)
Taking a deep breath, I consumed the potion, which made the worst
Western cough mixture seem like nectar. The sugared water alleviated the
aftertaste only marginally.

Central Javanese Ibu Sri was the first person whose home-made jamu the author tested. 
Here a pot of Kunir Asem is being prepared in her back yard.
By midnight, however, I still had not experienced the anticipated backlash.
At 5 am the next morning, I awoke expecting to feel like death, but—to my
astonishment—I had never felt better. This was extraordinary—I had actually
acquired a new energy; in fact I had never felt more alive and jamu had been the
only variation from my normal diet.

From that moment, I was hooked. I began researching the subject in
earnest, in the hope that others would benefit from my experience and discover
what—if anything—this ancient Indonesian health system could do for them.
The result, many years later, is this book.

Table of Contents
An Introduction to Jamu 7

Indonesia Healing Through the Ages 12
Jamu in Daily Life 24
The Raw Ingredients of Jamu 56
Massage: The Power of Touch 92
Healers, Collectors and Gendong 114
Beauty From Within 138
The Industry 154
The Way Ahead 168

Simple Remedies to Try at Home 178
Reputable Jamu Producers in Indonesia 181
Plant Glossary 184
Bibliography 188

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