Indonesian jamu—part of an integrated system of inner and outer health and beauty, encompassing powders, pills, ointments, lotions, massage and ancient folklore—is unknown to most Westerners. How, when, where and why were these treatments developed? And, what is so special about them?
Through the pages of this book you’ll learn about the closed world of ancient Javanese palaces where Indonesian jamu was perfected. You meet the healers and jamu makers whose skills have been passed from generation to generation and learn about their cures. Advice is offered on where to find these age-old remedies, including formulae that can be made safely at home. The information here is for people who wish to find out more about Indonesian health and beauty, draw their own conclusions and even try jamu for themselves.
Most morning across traditional villages Java, women carry baskets on their backs filled with bottles containing liquid mixtures to sell on the street. These intriguing fluids, which the women prepare themselves, are known as jamu, and are traditional Indonesian herbal medicines. Traditional Indonesian healers define health in terms of a balance between the polarities of hot and cold, and dry and wet. If the human body becomes too hot, as is the case during fevers, cooling vegetables and herbs are prescribed. In a similar vein, colds are treated with spices, which heat up the body.
The jamu sellers may seem unassuming, but to many these women are walking, talking pharmacies. On their backs are possible remedies for just about everything from skin problems and rheumatic pain to sexual dysfunction. Other preparations claim to boost energy and concentration, reduce stress and enhance youth. There are even jamu concoctions that purport to have cosmetic effects. Jamu is also big business. In addition to these individual jamu sellers, a dozen industrial manufacturers (among them Nyonya Meneer, Jago, Air Mancur and Jamu Iboe) sell preparations in their own stores, in pharmacies and in small shops. There are now even exclusive jamu shops in upscale malls, targeting middle-class customers.
In modern Indonesia, physicians working in private hospitals still do not consider jamu to be legitimate medicine. But for the average Indonesian, very little has changed over the last several hundred years. Western-style health care is rarely used by poorer Indonesians, while western medications are out of reach because of their cost. It is not surprising then that jamu is as popular as ever.
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