The History of Jamu From Ancient Times To The Colonial Era

"Jamu has become part of Indonesian culture and wisdom. Almost 50 percent of Indonesian people use jamu. This is in line with what the Ministry of Health's Balitbang is doing, which continues to update RISTOJA, Research on Medicinal Plants and Jamu on a regular basis"

Published by : Farida  -  11/03/2022 14:59 WIB

3 Minutes read.

The use of traditional herbs as medicine is not only practiced by Javanese people, but also people outside the island of Java. The term jamu which refers to the use of jamu as it is today has gone through a long process. Many times, the proving and the keeping of it in book forms has been done.


Before and up to the 18th century

One of the oldest clues indicating that people in Java used herbal ingredients for health is the discovery of artifacts in the form of mortar, pestle, and pipisan (has similar purpose with mortar and pestle, only with the flat mortar and cylindrical pestle which is used by rolling not pounding) made of stone. If the assumption is true, things similar to jamu have been used since the Mesolithic era.

Source: www.sasadaramk.com

There are also evidences of jamu uses on the reliefs at Borobudur and Prambanan temples that have existed since the 8th – 9th century. Penataran Temple, from 8th to 9th centuries, also depicted similar reliefs. Then there is an ancient transcript called Usada Bali written on lontar (palm leaves). Using ancient Javanese, Sanskrit, and Balinese languages, Usada Bali describes the use of jamu. It is estimated that Usada Bali was written between 991-1016 AD. In the 15th to 16th centuries, Primbon Kartasuro started using the term Djamoe (jamu).

Source: bali.idntimes.com

19th Century and Colonial Era

Entering the 19th century, there was Serat Centini which described various things about herbal medicine. Kanjeng Gusti Adipati Anom Mangkunegoro III wrote it between 1810 – 1823. In 1850, R. Atmasupana curated about 1734 jamu concoctions. From this evidence, it can be said that jamu is an important element for the lives of the people of the archipelago, especially in Java. The use of jamu outside Java does not have a good record, so it is still difficult to trace.

Serat centini

The history of jamu in the colonial period is arguably at one of its peaks of development. At that time, Europeans experienced new diseases because they lived in the tropical areas. They had difficulty treating the disease, apart from the different character of the disease, medicines sent from their country of origin arrived too long and many were damaged during the journey. Because of these obstacles, doctors and researchers began to look at the habits of local residents who use herbal ingredients for treatment.

The page insideindonesia.org published a report on the history of jamu entitled The Triumph of Jamu by Hans Pols in 2010. The report stated that doctors and researchers from the Netherlands, England, and Germany were interested in researching jamu. The results of the research were recorded, among others, in Practical Observations on a Number of Javanese Medications by dr. Carl Waitz, published in 1829. The book explains that herbal ingredients from Java can replace drugs commonly used in Europe. Some of Carl’s findings are that betel stew can treat coughs, cinnamon decoction is used to relieve fever, and cinnamon leaves are used to relieve indigestion.

In 1850, the Dutch health expert, Geerlof Wassink instructed doctors to use herbs for treatment. The results of the practice of the doctors were then published in the journal Medical Journal of the Dutch East Indies.

More in-depth research was conducted at the Bogor Botanical Gardens. In 1892, pharmacist Willem Gerbrand succeeded in proving the pharmacological effects of jamu. He succeeded in isolating the active ingredients of plants, namely morphine, kinins, and coca. Of the three ingredients, the efficacy of jamu can be scientifically proven. After that, Materia Indica was published. the work of dr. Cornelis L.van der Burg, the 900-page book summarizes the use of jamu in Indonesia.


In the early 1900s the use of jamu declined drastically. Some of the causes were the discovery of a new theory about bacteria and the discovery of X-Rays. From here the fate of jamu led to a new era, the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI), began to pay attention to jamu, and jamu entrepreneurs with a fairly massive scale began to emerge.

Still curious with the history of jamu at that time? Read our next article.


Source: Jurnal Jamu, Obat Tradisional Asli Indonesia Pasang Surut Pemanfaatannya di Indonesia, karya Ernie H. Purwaningsih, Departemen Farmasi, Fakultas Kedokteran Universitas Indonesia, 2011.