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, so I became very excited to learn that there was also an Indonesian form called “Jamu”, which I had the opportunity to experience 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, as if on an eternal search to find the miracle cures for my ‘ailments’. So it was only natural to continue this search to discover more about this Indonesian healing tradition that dates back to prehistoric times, yet still relatively unheard of in the western world.
Origins and definition of Jamu
Although there is no real concrete evidence, stories suggest its roots came from the ancient palaces of Surakarta (Solo) and Yogyakarta in central Java. Influenced through a complex cultural blend of Chinese, Indian and Arab traditions.
Jamu means merely Indonesian herbal medicine. Based on the belief that the cure comes from within, it encourages the body to produce antibodies as opposed to the taking medicine drugs to kill an infection. Around 1,000 plant species are commonly used to prepare many 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. Nethertheless 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 personalised Jamu healing ritual
Tabib – Pak Rahman was my Jamu Doctor. Coming from the nearby village of Grabag, he is a welcome visitor for many of the guests arriving to MesaStila, looking for alternative healing remedies. With over 24 years of experience, Pak Rahman 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 explained 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 to Clubhouse where he began to chop and mix 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 for all the ingredients to work in harmony together.
My Personalised Jamu 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 drunk 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 consistently to start seeing results. Nevertheless, 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 deep 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.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, MesaStila Resort, Magelang Central Java