Jamu: How to make Indonesians powerful herbal medicine

Most of you might know Jamu as an orange gingery tasting health shot. You can get it literally everywhere in Bali, but in the past years, it has also become quite popular around the world. 

Living in Indonesia, I drink Jamu every time I feel like I am getting sick. But Jamu is more than a quick fix against cold and flu or a new food trend – the traditional herbal remedy has been used for centuries in Indonesia to promote health and wellness. It is an affordable, natural, easy and incredibly intelligent way of preventing many diseases and staying healthy. Here are some insides about Jamu and how it is used within Indonesian families.

Jamu – more than a health shot

Jamu is a traditional natural medicine from Indonesia, predominantly made from herbs and other natural ingredients such as bark, roots, flowers, leaves, seeds or fruits and is known for its healing properties.

Jamu means “herbal medicine” for a reason: The powerful tonic is believed to help improve digestion, boost immunity, and reduce inflammation.

Jamu is found everywhere throughout Indonesia, but has its roots in Java where it was shared as a daily ritual among families and communities. There is not ONE recipe for Jamu, because it varies widely depending on the purpose for making it and also on the place and people who make it. Jamu Recipes have been passed down for generations and that is why there are so many different versions: Jamu can be green, red or orange and can also taste completely different. Until today, Jamu serves as a famous Indonesian home remedy for various kinds of disease. Recipes today may be influenced by chinese and indian medicine.

Fun Fact: In 2019, the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture officially recognized Jamu as one of Indonesia’s cultural heritage.

One Jamu a day…

Depending on the ingredients, Jamu can have different benefits, such as helping with

  • cough
  • acne
  • diabetes
  • digestion
  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • menstrual pain
  • muscle recovery
What are the main ingredients of Jamu?

There are many different versions of Jamu – but there are some ingredients that are popular for making it.

  1. Turmeric: Known ​​for its anti-inflammatory properties and high amount of antioxidants. 
  2. Ginger: Relieves nausea, helps digestion and supports the immune system 
  3. Galangal: Part of the ginger family and has antimicrobial, antifungal and antiparasitic properties.
  4. Aromatic ginger: Full of saponins, flavonoids, polyphenols and essential oils. Well known for its medicinal purposes which includes relieving cold, headaches and migraine and the flu. 
  5. Lemongrass: contains substances that are known for relieving swelling, pain and reducing body temperature.
  6. Tamarind: The sweet fruit is high in vitamins and helps with inflammation and healthy blood sugar levels. 
  7. Cinnamon: Loaded with antioxidants, cinnamon naturally reduces cholesterol levels and blood pressure and also has anti-inflammatory properties
  8. Palm sugar or jaggery: Has more minerals and vitamins than refined crystal sugar and balance out the bitter, sour and astringent taste in Jamu.

Jamu vs. Loloh

If you have been to Bali, you might have heard about Loloh too. Loloh is another herbal drink from Indonesia, made from plant extracts. It has its origin in Bali and is very similar to Jamu. In comparison to Jamu, Loloh does not get cooked. Depending on the recipe, Loloh tastes fairly bitter and sour. Plants and leaves are combined with turmeric, ginger, key lime, cinnamon and coconut water, tamarind or even chili. The most popular Loloh in Bali is Loloh Cemcem with Cem Cem leaves as the main ingredient.

3 famous versions of Jamu

There are endless possibilities of how to make Jamu. Here are three types:

Jamu Kunyit Asam: The most common type of Jamu. This is the orange health shot that everyone is talking about in Bali. It is usually made from Turmeric, Tamarind, lemon or lime juice, honey or palm sugar and pepper. Benefits: Supports the body’s natural detox processes, eases stomach discomfort, relieves painful menstruation, strengthens the immune system.

Jamu Loloh Cem Cem: A green version made from Cem Cem leaves which is well known for fighting insomnia, nausea, body heat, relieving exhaustion and heartburn, increasing endurance and increasing endurance. Traditionally made from Cem Cem leaves, coconut water, lime juice and salt.

Beras Kencur Jamu: Mainly made from rice, wild galangal and ginger, this jamu is good for stomach aches, stabilizing blood sugars and a famous remedy for fever as it helps lowering the body temperature. Due to its sweet taste, this oat milky looking jamu is one of the first jamus that gets introduced to kids in balinese families. 

Balinese people usually don’t wait until they get sick before drinking Jamu – they have it everyday to prevent illness. 

From the ayurvedic perspective, different Jamus have different effects on the three doshas. The orange Kunyit Asam for example is especially good for balancing Vata and Kapha whereas the green Cem-Cem pacifies the Pitta-Dosha. Lemongrass Jamu balances all the doshas.

How much Jamu is good for you?

Are you hooked on Jamu now? Me too! But let’s pace ourselves. In general, it is recommended to start with a small amount of Jamu tonic and gradually increase the dose over time. Most people find that drinking 1 glass of Jamu tonic per day is sufficient to experience its health benefits. However, some types of Jamu may be more potent and therefore one shot of Jamu in the morning or before a meal is perfectly fine. 

Keep in mind: Jamu is a medicine and should therefore be treated like one!

It’s also important to note that while Jamu is generally considered safe for most people, some individuals may have allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients.

Make your own Jamu: A classic recipe

Making Jamu at home is easy! You will only need some ingredients and a couple of minutes time. Here is my favorite recipe for turmeric jamu – perfect to prevent colds and flues during wet or winter season.

Ingredients: 100 g fresh turmeric, 10 ml lemon juice, 100 g dry tamarind, 40 g jaggery, pinch of black pepper, 700 ml water

Method:

  1. Remove skin from turmeric roots and wash in fresh water. Slice into small pieces and put in a blender with ¼ cup of water. Blend until a smooth paste forms (I do this in batches to keep it manageable). 
  2. In a large pot, boil the water. Add tamarind, lemon juice, pepper and jaggery. Stir and mix thoroughly. Add the turmeric paste from the blender and mix in well.
  3. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. The longer you cook, the stronger the Jamu will taste.
  4. Using a large sieve, strain the mixture into a bowl to separate the liquid. Squeeze out all the liquid with the back of a spoon.
  5. Transfer the tonic into glasses or a bottle and enjoy!

You can store the Jamu in the freezer for up to one week. Drink one small glass of Jamu every morning before breakfast.