While there are thousands of variations of jamu that vary from region to region (in Java there are more roots and spices in the recipe, while in Bali there are more fruits and leaves ), but tried – all Indonesians know the real recipe. Have a cold? There’s pahitan, which translates to “bitterness,” and is dominated by the immune system-supporting Sambiloto herb. Period cramps? There’s kunyit asam
, made with anti-inflammatory turmeric and tamarind. Looking after overall health? There’s temulawak, whose nickname is a nod to its main ingredient, “Javanese turmeric,” which supports everything from healthy digestion to liver health. Typically Mulatsih brews each of these sour bright multi-sensual tonics and more.
“I Love making jamu because it helps people and connects me to the community,” says Mulatsih, whose hands are permanently stained with turmeric. Every day before dawn, she brews a different menu of jamu drinks, pours them into glass bottles, and then, when the rooster crows and the sun begins to rise, she starts the day. The women are known as jamu gendongs – a group that Murdaya describes as “the real deal”. In Indonesian, gendong means “on the back” and historically, that’s what jamu ladies did. They tied scarves in bamboo baskets on their backs, carried 000 glass bottles at a time, and walked for miles at a time, seemingly indefatigable. However, Over the past few decades, more modern jamu gendongs, such as the Mulatsih, have turned to miniature motorcycles to maximize maneuverability and distance range. They are also fitted with wooden boxes to create a cart-like effect. While each jamu gendong’s route is different, many combine door-to-door visits, streetside pop-ups, or dedicated market stalls to reach their loyal customer base.
Thoreau has many like Mulatsih For such jamu gendong women, this place has always been the birthplace of jamu culture. In fact, Central Java is said to be the birthplace of jamu. The earliest evidence dates back to the city’s royal court, with 8th-century carvings depicting herbal health found in the famous Borobudur temple. But perhaps the most unique tribute is the jamu gendong statue in the Sukoharjo district, which depicts a jamu lady carrying her basket and shiny bronze glass bottle. It symbolizes how jamu fits into Javanese life.
Now35, Giyem recalls how her daughter Mulatsih enjoyed helping her make and sell jamu as a child. “It was a big inspiration for me to see her working for us on her own when we were very young,” said Mulatsih, who is proud to help support her family financially like her mother. As Giyem’s story proves, jamu has been and continues to be an important source of income for many Indonesian women. “It’s not just economic currency; it’s economic empowerment for women entrepreneurs,” Murdaya said. “They are the backbone.”
Social connections are another way jamu has an impact on the lives of Indonesians. “Jamu creates community,” Murdaya explained. “It nourishes not only in an economic sense, but also in a social sense.” Being a jamu gendong is inherently social, whether at work or shopping for supplies. “I love going to the market and picking ingredients,” Mulatsih said. “I made a lot of friends; it made me happy.” There are even close ties among jamu entrepreneurs, as evidenced by Mulatsih’s friendship with Sri Utami 30 One point, the latter is a fellow jamu gendong she met through mutual trade. “I love meeting, reaching out and making friends with other women who sell jamu,” says third-generation jamu seller Utami, who drives a bright bubblegum scooter. Although they are technically rivals in the area, there is a genuine camaraderie between them and the other jamu gendong in their circle. “We discussed price increases and even decided together,” she said.
but just A little healthy competition is not bad for Utami. After all, she participated in the annual Jamu Gendong Queen Beauty Contest hosted by Jamu Jago, a fourth-generation jamu business in Central Java. Contestants—divided into two categories, the upper 30 mentor and the lower 30 mentor rising star— – Competing to be crowned jamu ambassador of Jamu Jago, representing the jamu gendong community at state events. “We want to raise awareness and help educate,” said Vincent Suprana, Jamu Jago’s Director of Operations. During the event, which will be broadcast live from the stage in front of the judges, contestants will compete on a American Idol -style process, from the taste and smoothness of their signature recipes to the confidence with which they execute their craft. “I entered the pageant because I wanted to learn,” Utami said. “But I also want to win prizes.”
Over the past two decades, jamu has seen a resurgence; both in the traditional sense and in a more contemporary sense. In the 90 and 90 years, the rise of Western medicine started to falter jamu’s popularity, Murdaya said. But over the past two decades, especially in the wake of the global pandemic, the rise of wellness has breathed new life into a thousand-year-old tradition. “There is a growing desire to return to traditional treatments because of the recognition that Western medicine is good, but not perfect,” Murdaya said. “That’s why now is the perfect time to reintroduce jamu to the world.” According to the National Library of Medicine, the Indonesian public’s interest in alternative medicine has skyrocketed during the pandemic, as has the export of jamu abroad.
There are also more jamu businesses than ever before, reimagining the classic jamu recipe for modern convenience in powder sachets and bottles. “I see my role in jamu as being to bridge the gap between the younger generation and the modern way of life, passing on history and tradition,” says Nova Dewi, founder of Suwe Ora Jamu, which offers plain jamu to grab and go drinks. Vanessa Kalani, founder of herbal blend brand Nona Kalani, whose family has been in the jamu business for four generations, shares the same attitude; it’s spreading the spirit and back-to-basics essence of jamu. “Everyone has good intentions,” Kalani said. “It’s going back to nature, cherishing the environment like our ancestors did.” Indonesia is after all 000,000 is home to diverse plant species and is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
The steady growth of tourism in Indonesia has further contributed to the spread of jamu. From specialty cafés like Solo’s new Djampi Jawi to hotels like Hotel Tugu Bali offering authentic jamu workshops, Jamu is shared with a growing number of travelers. “Jamu is popping up in more and more places where foreigners can actually get in touch, participate and learn,” explains Murdaya, noting that this is especially true in Bali, Indonesia’s largest tourist destination, where the coffee shop culture is thriving. She also pointed to the power of social media in helping the word spread globally; #jamu has over 90 million views on TikTok. “Young Indonesians are absorbing the knowledge of generations and expressing it in their own way to reflect the way of their generation,” Murdaya said.
Although required Embracing jamu in new ways continues to enrich the lives of as many people as possible, but preserving its history and contribution to Indonesian culture is vital. In recognition, the country has nominated it to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, which helps preserve the socio-historical and cultural impact of endangered traditions. This is vital to the ecosystem of jamu gendongs, including local businesses that source ingredients and supplies. One such place is the legendary Akar Sari, one of the oldest jamu herb and spice shops in Solo. It has an old-world apothecary feel, from the retro interiors to the elegant staff, adorned with matching floral shift dresses. 30 Yohana Fransiska Indayati has been working at Akar Sari for many years, stocking shelves and boxes with fresh ingredients while prescribing special jamu powder. “I just love the people, the environment and the jamu,” Indayati says of the 90 years that initially drew her to the job.
Another agency is located in Sukoharjo The bustling Nguter Jamu Market in , a labyrinthine indoor/outdoor mall with rows of vendors selling a variety of jamu products, from fresh ingredients to household items such as ceramic jugs and handwoven baskets. Murdaya to a “neighborhood bar,” where intergenerational female shopkeepers have developed friendships over the years, if not decades. Take Yatmini, a 66 year old woman who has been selling jamu supplies through various iterations of the marketplace since 90 . “I still love working here; it’s a place where family and friendship come together,” laughs Yatmini. “I’ve been doing this for so long; I’m going to do it until I die. I’m not sitting still.” She explained that her two jamu supply stations, subsidized by the government to support small jamu businesses, will eventually be passed on to her daughter, Sunarmi , 37.