The art of herbal healing in Central Java, Indonesia
“Indonesian Jamu?” That was my first reaction when I was asked whether I wanted to visit the Jamu doctor, shortly after my arrival at the MesaStila Wellness Resort in Magelang, Central Java. Over the years, I have dabbled in all sorts of ancient wellness philosophies including Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic traditional medicine. So I became very excited to learn that there was also an Indonesian form called “Jamu”. And as there is always something about my inner self that I’m eager to rectify, I was very eager to find out more about this Indonesian healing tradition that dates from prehistoric times, yet is still relatively unheard of in the western world.
Origins and definition of Jamu
Although there is no real concrete evidence, stories suggest its origins came from the ancient palaces of Surakarta (Solo) and Yogakarta in central Java. Influenced through a complex cultural blend of Chinese, Indian and Arab traditions.
Jamu simply means Indonesian herbal medicine. Based on the belief that the cure comes from within, it encourages the body to produce its own antibodies as opposed to the taking medicine drugs to kill an infection. Around 1,000 plant species are commonly used to prepare a number of remedies. An astonishing fact is that with over 40,000 species of tropical plants that are in existence globally, 30,000 of them grown in Indonesia. So it’s no surprise that plants are considered a powerful healing tool in Indonesian culture.
Many of the younger generations of Indonesians now use modern forms of medicine. Yet 70% of Indonesians living in rural areas in Java still go a Jamu doctor to get treatment for their ailments, just like we would go to our local General Practitioner.
My Jamu healing ritual
Tabib - Pak Rahman was my Jamu Dcotor. Coming from the nearby village of Grabag, he is a welcome visitor for many of the guests coming to MesaStila, looking for alternative healing remedies. With over 24 years of experience, he began as an apprentice through his training in an Indonesian martial art known as Pencak Silat, a traditional form of exercise and powerful way to create energy and gain control of your body. He is an important figure and provides Jamu healing to women, men and children in his local community.
I had my consultation with Pak Rahman and the holistic nurse at the Clubhouse of the hotel, where guests can lazily lounge all day on antique mahogany Indonesian day beds in comfortable yoga pyjamas that are provided to you in your room. After having given an explanation of my current health issues, I went with him on a short journey through the gardens in the hotel, to seek out the appropriate healing plants for my remedy. We then returned back to Clubhouse where he begun to chop and mix together all the ingredients.
Pak Raham’s skills and experience lies in being able to contrast a hot illness with a cold medicine and vice versa, using recipes that have handed down through generations of teachings. Therefore, understanding the contrasts between hot and cold, sweet and sour, and strong and week for example, are vitally important in order for all the ingredients to work in harmony together.
My personalised Jamu remedy tonic
- 2 x slices of Lempuyang rhizome - A medicinal plant found in Asia used to treat many ailments including colds and increasing appetitie
- 2 x slices of Galangal rhizome – An Indonesian plant containing high anti-oxidant and enzyme-activation properties, helping with indigestion and loss of appetite.
- Terminalia Arjuna leaves - A tree found originally in India, its leaves have high anti-oxidant properties and are also helpful for improving cardiovascular health.
- 1 x slice of Curcuma root– An anti-inflammatory which helps also to relieve a variety of digestive problems
- 1 x slice orange and white turmeric root – A very effective liver cleanser.
- 7 x cardamom seeds – A good source of minerals containing potassium, calcium, and magnesium and other therapeutic elements.
- Water, honey, lime and crystalised suger and a 3-step filtration process
Jamu can be used on its own and also in conjunction with other healing techniques to help speed up the healing process. So after I had drank my tonic, I was laid down onto one of the day beds where I was given a massage treatment using pressure point manipulation.
In an ideal world, I should drink a freshly-prepared tonic once a week. And if you are staying in the hotel, there is a Jamu session every morning, where various tonics providing more general health benefits are freshly made and offered to guests as part of their wellness program.
Jamu is not an overnight remedy and has to be used over a period of time to start seeing results. Nethertheless, staying in one the most beautiful boutique hotels in Central Java and experiencing three days of Indonesian wellness, made me feel entirely rejuvenated inside and out. It has also made me more curious about the art of Indonesian healing and its strong connectivity with the country’s strong cultures and traditions.
If you’re interested like I am to know more about Jamu, I suggest that you read Jamu, The Ancient Indonesian Art of Herbal Healing. Written by Irish Journalist Susan Jane-Beers, it’s the only English version that gives you an all rounder insight about the concept.
MesaStila Resort: Desa Losari - Grabag PO BOX 108 Magelang, 56100 Central Java, Indonesia
Member of Mr & Mrs Smith Hotels
I stayed at the MesaStila Resort at my own expense and the opinions expressed here in this article are my own.