Jamu juice is an anti-inflammatory herbal drink, health tonic, and healing tradition from Indonesia with several health benefits. Its health benefits and use span centuries within Indonesian and Bali culture as ancient royalty and villagers incorporated the turmeric jamu recipe within their everyday lives. Even the cosmopolitan youth of today make jamu with turmeric while soaking up its endless benefits. We know that Jamu juice utilizes ingredients such as fresh turmeric and ginger, tamarind, rice, and many more roots and plants with anti-inflammatory properties indigenous to the traditional Indonesian and Bali islands. But, did you know that Jamu is a tradition that is about more than just herbs and spices you consume throughout the week? It's also about the people who participate in a lifestyle of body wellness, including the stories and relationships they have with one another surrounding this healing tradition.
An Ancient Love Story
One of the oldest Jamu companies in Indonesia that started over four 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, experiencing pain all over his body, but particularly in his stomach. No one can find a medicine to help his ailment, and his body is simply not getting better. She, in her determination to save her husband, starts combining herbs and natural ingredients together. In search of the right combination and strain of food like turmeric, ginger, curcumin, roots, and sugar, she searches for the cure to aid his digestion. She takes her basic knowledge of indigenous plants and roots and starts researching far and wide (not an easy feat back in the day,) to create something, anything that could heal her husband. One day, after her repeated efforts, she concocted a recipe that worked, and thus his life was saved. Word spread of the anti-inflammatory and healing properties of her ginger and turmeric juice, and others in her village started coming to her for the traditional health tonic that could also bring them back to wellness... and that’s how her business started. Her great-granddaughter, who remains one of the turmeric Jamu recipe-bearers handed down today, told me this story; she said her great grandmother was motivated by love to find a recipe and medicine that would cure her husband. And what followed was a revolution to incorporate wellness into the lives of everyone around her as well.
Mom & Grandma Know Best
Everywhere I turn in Indonesia there is a story. My Indonesian friend laughs as she says her old, worried grandmother used to make her and her other grandkids drink a dark, bitter turmeric ginger tonic as a child for illness prevention, stomach and digestion aid, 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 herbal blend (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: smashing fresh tamarind into cold water and rubbing it on her face. After cleansing, she said, “I’ve tried everything but my mom taught me this, and this still works better than anything else I've tried…”
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 created these tonics would also say a mantra/prayer while making the drinks, ultimately asking for a blessing from the gods. Serving this drink to patients would end up bringing them back to wellness. But Jamu juice isn’t only about the ginger, turmeric, black pepper, fresh ginger, honey, curcumin, lime, coconut, lemon, sugar, orange, milk, and root it contains. It is about the intent to cultivate a life of wellness and holistic healing as well.
Jamu Self-Care Today
As much as life seems to have changed since then, the basics of it really haven’t. Human relationships, eating and drinking healthily, taking care of our skin in a holistic and balanced fashion are just as important as they were then, if not more than ever in the fast-paced world of today that keeps us busier than ever. But maintaining the basics, bringing in elements of the natural Jamu and Bali lifestyle centering around inner health, outer beauty, and overall peace and happiness as a form of and sign that self-care still exists today.
So, how do we maintain a Jamu lifestyle and take in all the jamu benefits it has to offer? It’s really not that hard. But it all starts with the belief that our own happiness matters, and therefore our health and wellness matter as well. Next is the incorporation of the healthy and delicious ingredients of Jamu juice, like ginger, turmeric, and root, mixed with the positive intentions we carry through our lives in various ways, reminding us that our own journey to wellness and self-care is valid and worth pursuing. We know the ingredients of Jamu juice are healthy and anti-inflammatory, and now they are more accessible and free to all of us. Fresh turmeric and ginger, tamarind, candlenut, rice, root, lime, curcumin, honey, vitamin C, and cinnamon, all blended into a single drink that contains each free and healing property for us to take in. We consume these Jamu juice recipes for the health benefits this drink has to offer. And we drink it simply for the enjoyment of soaking in these benefits. After all, jamu is all about becoming more intentional. And that is something we can all benefit from today.
Jamu is a living tradition that remains alive and well today. In Indonesia, Jamu cafes are popping up, the next generation adding their spin on the older recipes. And even in the US, I go to restaurants that spice their food with turmeric, ginger, or “Bali spice” to amp up the healing benefits of each dish that only ingredients like turmeric can offer. I was just in LA and 2 nights in a row, that was on the menu - even the west is coming up with its own variation on ingredients of an ancient tradition. The point is 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 lifestyle!