Let’s start with what we know. We know Jamu is an herbal healing tradition from Indonesia that spans across centuries, and is a part of everyone from ancient royalty, the villager, and the cosmopolitan youth today. We know Jamu utilizes ingredients including turmeric, tamarind, ginger, rice, and many more roots and plants indigenous to the Indonesian islands. But, did you know that Jamu is a tradition that is more than just the tonics – but also about the people who participate in a lifestyle of wellness, including the stories and relationships we have with people around this healing tradition?
One of the oldest Jamu companies that started over 4 generations ago is called Nonya Meneer. Mrs. Meneer has her own story and it starts like this: One day, Mrs. Meneer finds her husband is sick. No one can find a cure, and he’s not getting better. She, in her determination to save her husband, starts concocting herbs to see if she can cure him. She takes her basic knowledge and starts researching far and wide (we’re talking pre-internet times, not an easy feat back in the day), to create something, anything that would work. One day, after repeated efforts, she concocted something that worked, (and yes, it contained turmeric too), and thus his life was saved. Word spread of her ability to cure her husband, and the people in her village started coming to her for tonics that could also bring them back to health… and that’s how her business started. Her great granddaughter, who remains one of the Jamu recipe-bearers handed down today told me this story; she said her great grandmother was motivated by love to find a cure for her husband.
Everywhere I turn in Indonesia, there are stories; my Indonesian friend laughs as she says her old, worried grandmother used to make her and her other grandkids drink a dark, bitter herbal tonic as children for illness prevention and to treat my friend’s condition of perpetually cold hands. Even as my friend makes an icky face when talking about the taste of the tonic (occasionally being naughty and pouring it out in the toilet), the entire story is told with love and smiles. And my mom, the cosmetics junkie with all her expensive department store cremes and potions, dragged me into her bathroom one day before I had to go to work to show me her best skin tonic is smashing fresh tamarind into cold water and rubbing it on her face after cleansing saying “I’ve tried everything, my mom taught me this, and this still works better…”
Jamu used to come from the word “Jampi” which means “magical concoction.” There is a spiritual (not necessarily religious) aspect of Jamu in its history as centuries ago, the early healers who would create these tonics would also say a mantra/prayer and ask for a blessing from the gods before serving them so that these “magical recipes” would work to bring the patient back to wellness. Therefore Jamu isn’t only about the ingredients alone but the intent of wellness as well.
Today, as much as life may have changed, it really hasn’t. The basic tenets of human relationships, feeding our bodies with health and mindfulness, taking care of our skin in a holistic, balanced fashion is as important now, if not, more so than ever in our fast paced world. Keeping the basics, bringing elements of the Jamu lifestyle, centering around inner health, outer beauty and overall peace and happiness from self care still exists.
How do we maintain a Jamu lifestyle? It’s not hard – it starts with a belief that our own happiness matters, and therefore our health and wellness matters. Next is incorporating the healthy ingredients of Jamu and positive intentions in our lives in various ways, reminding us of our own journey to wellness and self care. We know the ingredients of Jamu are healthy, and now they are more accessible to all of us. Turmeric, tamarind, candlenut, rice, cinnamon – we consume Jamu ingredients for health and enjoyment more than we know today, it’s just becoming more intentional about it.
Jamu is a living tradition. In Indonesia, Jamu cafes are popping up everywhere, the next generation adding their spin on the older recipes, and even in the US, I go to restaurants that spice their food with “Bali inspired spice.” I was in LA recently and 2 nights in a row, I saw it on different menus – even the West is coming up with its own variation on ingredients of an ancient tradition. The point of Jamu is about infusing these specific ingredients in our daily lives for holistic wellness and care – not only for ourselves but also for others around us who we love. So share the love of life by incorporating a more Jamu-infused and inspired lifestyle!