Jamu, A Great Healing Heritage of the Archipelago

"… if a person tries to heal a certain disease without having knowledge or how to treat the disease, yet still tries to heal the sick just for the sake of wages, that person can be treated like a thief. - The Kutaramanawa Majapahit Book -. "

Published by : Farida  -  28/05/2021 18:43 WIB

3 Minutes read.

For the Javanese people, the tradition of concocting and consuming jamu as a healthy drink  has developed since the Hindu-Buddhist period. Artifactual data on the Karmawibhangga relief on Borobudur Temple in the VIII century (on panel 19), shows a sick man receiving a massage on the head, and rubbing the abdomen to the chest. While there are those who bring bowls containing ingredients (jamu concoctions) to drink. Next there is an atmosphere of gratitude for someone’s healing. In addition, several reliefs show various types of plants such as nagasari, areca nut, jamblang, pandanus, kecubung, which are known as plants that are often used to concoct jamu. Reliefs with similar images are also found in Prambanan, Penataran, Sukuh, and Tegawangi temples.


During the Majapahit Kingdom, Prabu Hayam Wuruk had detailed healing practices. In the book ‘Kutaramanawa’ it is stated that the practice of healing cannot be done by just anyone:

“… if a person tries to heal a certain disease without having knowledge or how to treat the disease, yet still tries to heal the sick just for the sake of wages, that person can be treated like a thief.”

During the Majapahit kingdom, the Balawi Inscription (1305 AD) also mentions the professions of tuha nambi (medicine), kdi (woman shaman), and walyan (healer). Meanwhile, the Bendosari inscription (1360 AD) mentions ‘janggan’ for the name of the village healer profession. The profession of jamu maker and jamu seller appears on the ‘Madhawapura’ inscription with the name ‘acaraki‘.

Before the word ‘jamu’ was widely known, various Old Javanese manuscripts referred to it as oesada (usada) or ‘jampi‘. These two words have been mentioned in the Gatotkaca Sraya manuscript written by Mpu Panuluh during the reign of King Jayabaya of the Kediri kingdom. The word ‘oesada‘ refers more to health, while ‘jampi‘ is a representation of the concoction of medicinal plants either by consumption or external treatment accompanied by (rapalan or incantation of) prayer to help the healing process.

Javanese people recognize three levels of language, namely kromo hinggil (high-level language), kromo madya (mid level), and ngoko (casual level language between peers). This difference depends on who and where the word is used. For example, ‘Serat Kawruh Bab Jampi – Jampi Jawi‘ explains that the use of the word ‘Jampi‘ is used by the palace circle, in this case the Surakarta Palace.

When introduced to the outside of the palace by the wiku and dukun, according to the social strata and grammar of jawa madya and ngoko the word ‘JAMPI’ changed to ‘JAMU’. The same thing applies to the word ‘JAWI’ from the grammar of kromo hinggil when leaving the palace the word changes to JAWA. Thus, it can be concluded that the JAMU vocabulary comes from Indonesia, especially Java.

A review of Jamu is in Serat Centhini Volume III pages 321-330 containing about 45 types of medicinal plants to mix 85 kinds of jamu recipes to treat about 30 types of diseases. Meanwhile, in the Serat Kawruh Chapter of Jampi-Jampi Jawi, which was written during the time of Sunan Paku Buwono V in 1833, there are around 1,166 prescriptions for disease treatments. The number consists of 922 recipes for concocting jamu and 244 recipes in the form of rajah, amulets, pictures, prayers, chants, and spells as healing powers. The large number of prescriptions for this medicine explains that at that time the Javanese people already had ‘linuwih’ or excelled knowledge in the art of healing and healing diseases.

Jaya Suprana places jamu as a cultural product of  bangsa Indonesia (Indonesian nation). Therefore, Jamu cannot be equated with other medical treatments that require prerequisites such as clinical trials to obtain legality in the trade. Jamu is the fruit of the historical journey of community civilization that cannot be separated from the ropes of Javanese culture.

Understanding this position is important so that jamu has independence as the intellectual property of the Indonesian nation which has provided health benefits and has been proven through the history of Javanese civilization, from generation to generation for centuries. This is the jamu root. This is the power of jamu as an original Indonesian product.

Jamu Is Java? What about the rest of Indonesia?

Jamu is Java? It is true that the word jamu comes from the Javanese language. However, jamu is like batik (which comes from the Javanese language, but its use is also used for similar commodities from other regions, such as Palembang Batik, Cirebon Batik, Papuan Batik, and others).

Nusantara (The archipelago) is home to various types of medicinal plants and jamu concoctions. For example, in 1977 a research team in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi found 449 herbal medicines that are still being used. This discovery does not include dozens of herbal mixtures that do not yet have a patent and are known only to local residents.

Of course there are many more jamu from various other parts of Indonesia. We can trace the culture of jamu in various regions in Indonesia. The first is Kalimantan, a province that has high rainfall and the richest natural diversity in the world. According to some literature, the Dayak Tribe have identified various medicinal plants that have healing properties. There are at least 4,000 plant species found in Kalimantan which have great potential for new medicines.

In Tonsea Minahasa, jamu is prepared in a very simple way, namely in the form of a mixture of fresh leaves, dried medicinal plants, there is also a decoction, and ingredients to be mixed while bathing such as preparat asap (smoked preparations) and preparat uap (steamed preparations). The Minahasa people are accustomed to using temulawak (tumbulawa), turmeric (kuni), tapak kuda leaves (to’dong noat), cat’s whiskers (makumi nemeong), kencur (sukur), betel leaf (douna), areca nut (mbua), bitter melon ( paria), nutmeg, cloves, ginger (sedep), chives (dansuna kayu), garlic (dansuna puti), and eggplant (poki-poki) as medicinal plants.

Since the 15th century Ambon has been known as a center for the spice trade. This natural wealth has attracted the attention of experts from other nations, one of which was George Everhard Rumphius who later visited Ambon and wrote the book Herbarium Amboinense in the 17th century. This book contains various types of plants that grow in the areas of Ambon and Maluku, including spices, medicines, and so on.

In Bali we will find a variety of lontar containing various traditional remedies and medicinal herbs. Traditional herbs in Bali are concocted  in a simple way. For example, medicinal plants are thinly sliced and then applied to the sore spot, for example garlic and cucumber. In addition, the ingredients are finely ground and then pasted on the sore spot or brewed with boiling water or boiled in water, or it can be in squeezed forms. There are even some medicinal plants that are consumed as fresh vegetables. The medicinal plants used by the Balinese people are not much different from those used by the Javanese, such as ginger, turmeric, betel, areca nut, asam kawak, and many others.

In Madura, the habit of drinking jamu has been ingrained from generation to generation. Until there is a saying there: it is better not to eat than not to drink jamu. These jamu are generally in the form of ready-to-drink jamu, either in the form of pills or ready-to-brew packaged products that can be purchased at jamu shops. Madurese women and men in general prefer to drink brewed jamu, because it is stronger in terms of taste and aroma. It is also said that the efficacy is more real than drinking powdered jamu or djamu in the form of pills.