Jamu is the Indonesian system of herbal medicine. Jamu was very much built on the same foundations as Ayurveda, but adapted to the herbs and plants of the Indonesian archipelago.

Indonesia is home to over 30,000 different types of medicinal herbs, most of which were known in ancient times but many have been forgotten. Also, Jamu has never been standardized to the same extent as Ayurveda.

The best ancient books on Jamu herbal medicine are kept in the royal libraries of the Javanese royal courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. A more recent book from 1858 called Kawruh Bab Jampi Jawi (“Encyclopedia of Javanese Jamu”) presents 1,734 jamu recipes.

The stone mortar and pestle used to crush herbs, roots and bulbs has been in use since the most ancient times, while the most ancient relics found were from the Medang kingdom era.

We can also see Jamu usage being depicted on the Karmawipangga relief in Borobudur, with herbalists grounding herbs with the stone mortar and pestle, herbal drink sellers, and herbal physicians treating their clients. This is seen also at the Brambang temple in Prambanan, as well as in the Panataran, Sukuh and Tekalwangi temples in Java.

Inscriptions at the Perot, Haliwangbang and Kadadu temples also mention herbal medicine as being a core of the primordial culture of Indonesia.

The Madhawapura inscription from the Majapahit empire mentions a specific type of herbalist called Acaraki.

Jamu remedies are very often gender specific, meaning men and women do not consume the same drinks, except the few for general consumption such as the famous Jamu Kunyit.

This is in accordance with the general view in the Saiva Siddantha tradition that prevailed in Indonesia for 2,000 years and which always held a clear distinction and harmony between Shiva (the Divine Consciousness, or Male Principle) and Devi, or Shakti, or Parvati (the Eternal Feminine Principle).

Popular Herbs used in Jamu

Sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan), or Secang

• Sambang Darah (Excoecaria cochinchinensis)

Ginger (Zingiber officinale), or Jahe

• Bengle (Zingiber brevifolium)

Java Tea (Orthosiphon aristatus), or Kumis Kuching

• Jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana), or Bidara

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), or Pegagan

Neem (Azadirachta indica)

Aromatic Galangal (Kaempferia galanga), or Kencur

• Greater Galangal (Alpinia galanga), or Lengkuas

• Lempuyang (Zingiber aromaticum)

Longjack (Eurycoma longifolia), or Pasak Bumi

• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), or Adas

• Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii), or Kayu Manis

Noni (Morinda citrifolia), or Kudu

Kalamegha (Andrographis paniculata) or Sambiloto

Labisia (labisia pumila)

• Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), or Brotowali

• Javanese Guduchi (Tinospora crispa), or Brotowali

• Indian Laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum), or Nyamplung

• Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)

• Melati Jasmine (Jasminum sambac)

• Cogon Grass (Imperata cylindrica), or Rumput Alang-Alang

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum), or Cengkeh

Yellow Turmeric (Curcuma longa), or Kunyit

Javanese Turmeric (Curcuma xanthorrhiza), or Temulawak

White Turmeric (Curcuma zedoaria)

Temu Giring (Curcuma Heyneana), another rare form of Turmeric

Popular Jamu Formulations

The most complext formulations are true elixirs that are usually mixed in coconut shell cups. Spices, roots, chunks of wood, et cetera are boiled down into teas and are mixed with palm sugar, wild honey, raw egg yolk and sometimes Anggur (a Javanese wine).

As mentioned above, the true Jamu tradition has hundreds or even thousands of formulations, but here are some of the most popular ones that you are more likely to encounter in prepared, commercial form:

• Jamu Kunyit – The absolute superstar and most famous of all Jamu decoctions, made of Turmeric.

• Jamu Temulawak – Javanese Turmeric and Ginger, with a bit of Tamarind, palm sugar, pandanus leaves and cumin.

• Jamu Kudu Laos (Noni and Galangal jamu)

• Jamu Rice Kencur – Made of Rice and Kaempferia galanga)

• Jamu Sinom – Made of young Tamarind leaves, with ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.

• Jamu Chili Lempuyang – Made from lempuyang chili and chili Java.

• Jamu Cabe Puyang (Zingiber serumbet jamu)

• Jamu Pahitan (Bitter jamu)

• Jamu Kunci Suruh (Betel jamu)

• Jamu Uyup-uyup

• Jamu Galian Singset – Made from Turmeric, Galangal, Tamarind, Cinnamon, Pepper, Lemongrass, Kencur, Cloves, Cardamom, and Coriander.