Jamu from Java (and Indonesia) is predominantly herbal medicine made from natural materials, such as parts of plants such as roots, leaves and bark, and fruit. In some cases material from the bodies of animals, such as bile of goat or cobra or sundried rice-field crabs are also used. It is often presented through bitter-tasting potions or pills containing various ingredients.
The use of medicinal plants to overcome health problems in various countries around the world has always existed. This appears through many writings of ancient manuscripts that contain the properties of medicinal plants for treating various diseases that occur in different tribes and societies around the world.
Examples of ancient manuscripts
– In Mesopotamia (2600 BC) tablets were found describing the content of bioactive various medicinal plants.
– In China some ancient manuscripts known:
1. Shi Er Bing Fang (1100 BC) contains 52 prescription drugs
2. Shenmong Herbarium (1100 BC) containing 365 prescription drugs.
3. Herbarium Tang (659 AD) containing 850 prescription drugs.
– In India, the Sushruta Samhita Veda containing examples of potions was written 1000 years BC
In Java, from ancestral times until now, the use of herbs or herbal medicine has always played an important role in traditional health care. For example, Beras kencur, Cabe Puyang Kencur Sunthi, Kunir asem, Uyup-uyup and other remedies from the past still exist until today and are regularly used in the maintenance of health in our society. One might have noticed the many yellow-signed jamu shops on the roadsides or the itinerant jamu saleswomen walking around carrying their various mixtures on their back.
In Java as well, many old manuscripts talk about the subject of Jamu in health.
1. SERAT NITISASTRO, written in the 13th century AD
This text mentions: “Mirwa Hyang Pethiwi tang usandhilata ilang igunaniran reteng jagad” meaning:
“The world loses its sanctity just like the Sambiloto plant which heals so many diseases would have lost its healing properties”. The text then expands on the symbolic analogy of the healing properties of this plant with spirituality in the world we’re living in.
2. SERAT RAMA, written in by R. Ng. Yasadipura I (1729 – 1801)
This chronicle contains further mentions of various plants utilized to heal wounds in warfare. Again the sambiloto plant is said to miraculously heal the ape-hero Hanuman wounded after a battle with the demon-king Rahwana.
3. SERAT CENTHINI, written around 1815 by three notorious pujangga or court poets upon the order of the king of the Surakarta Kraton Sunan Paku Buwana V.
From this text, the Javanese people received several Jamu recipes focusing mainly on male and female stamina. Interesting to note that sexual health and healthy procreation aspects were highlighted. A tendency to guarantee able and healthy descendants was a main motivator for this practice. An example is the potency of sperm discussed in the fourth chapter Pupuh Dhandhanggula.
4. KITAB PRIMBON LUKMANAKIM ADAMMAKNA, written by Ir. Soembogo.
This esoteric text contains encyclopedic information on traditional health compiled and transmitted over generations, and thus no exact dating is clear. Notable parts are:
a. The work of the Prince Haryo Tjakraningrat who taught the on the “KAWRUH YUSWO WIDODO”, a secret science related to long-life practices based on mystical Javanese interpretations on life and nature.
b. Primbon Asmaragama (Javanese Kamasutra)
c. Primbon Usada, a text on jamu for all types of individuals in society:
Jalu Usada (for general strength)
Wanita Usada (specially for women)
Rarya Usada or Yoga Usada (specially for children and young people)
Tri Guna Usada (Jamu for adults and elders)
Initially, the treatment of diseases by Javanese ancestral healers by means of natural materials was mainly based on empirical experience by testing the effectiveness of a plant in relation to certain diseases. Another method was the belief that the shape, color or appearance of a plant suggests the effectiveness of these plants. This knowledge is commonly known as the “doctrine of signatures”.
– The root of the plant Pandak Pule (Rauwolfia serpentine) has a shape of a snake and can therefore treat someone who is exposed to toxins from the venom of snakes.
– The rhizome Kunir (Curcuma domestica) is yellow, which means it can treat jaundice. Turmeric indeed has a favorable effect on the pancreas and liver functions.
– Leaves of the Pagagan (Centela asitica L) have the shape of a brain, which means that this plant can be used to increase blood flow to the brain.
Specific knowledge such as in the examples above has already been correctly vindicated. However, some assertions are false, for example the ability of the banana-flower shaped like a heart has not been shown to successfully treat heart diseases.
The science of Jamu has developed tremendously in recent decades, sometimes adopting and integrating precise and proven oriental theoretical systems borrowed from other holistic traditions such as Indian Ayurveda and traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). At the SEPTIM institute in Yogyakarta, the science behind jamu-making has been applied to a rare sophistication, basing the remedy mixtures in the Yin Yang system as well as the Five Elements systems of viewing the body and its relation with the outer world. Integrating these holistic sciences with ancient Javanese concepts of mind and body, the trained healers often arrive at remarkable and ‘miraculous’ rehabilitation of a patient’s health.
For more information check the blog https://javanesewisdomandhealing.wordpress.com/about-us/
By Patrick Vanhoebrouck and Moko Pramusanto