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Jamu – Traditional Herbal Healing  

by on Saturday, 22 April 20063 Comments | 4,016 views

Bali is an island that has progressed economically through tourism and moved forward in an era of technology, but there are still some traditions that will never change. A large majority of the population, especially those from rural areas, place great faith in herbal medicines and tonics for mild ailments rather than pay a visit to a local doctor or health clinic.

Jamu is a blended Javanese drink made from a concoction of herbs, spices and plant matter believed to possess medicinal properties. It is consumed regularly to alleviate failing health, boost stamina, promote beauty and recreate harmonious sexual relations between husband and wife amongst other things. Jamu can be traced back as far as the 9th Century where ancient Javanese scripts have recorded its use in the royal palaces. However, even today the specific healing powers of jamu still remain a mystery.

A type of jamu that is produced very simply in a home-industry environment and sold door to door is known as ‘jamu gendong’. The Indonesian word ‘gendong’ literally means to hold and this type of jamu is carried by women in large baskets strapped to their backs through the streets. Most jamu vendors are Central Javanese women who uniformly dress in faded batik sarongs and conical straw hats to ply their bottles of herbal drinks.

A typical jamu concoction is made from a blend of rice, herbs, milk, eggs, honey and ginger which is consumed to maintain body strength and prevent digestive problems. However, females tend to prefer a mixture known as kunyit asem (sour turmeric) believed to ease discomfort during menstruation.

Another form of jamu is the instant variety sold in single dose sachets or capsules bearing the brand names of familiar production houses. These mixtures are sold from small market kiosks that are packed full with all sorts of powders and potions claiming to bestow health, strength, restore virginity and create amazing sexual powers. The contents of these ‘super’ jamu sachets are mixed in a small plastic cup and drank with a little water warm.

The consumption of jamu is an Indonesian heritage that has been passed down through generations of people who delight in the exploration of alternative health practices. There are no evident side effects from drinking jamu as all ingredients are naturally sourced. For many locals a glass of jamu is still a much cheaper option than a visit to the doctor.

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