Jammin with Jamu

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

What ails you? A headache? Cough? An evil tooth? Or maybe you are doubled over with stomach pains cursing yourself for having, yet again, bought your favorite food from that sweaty vendor. Then again, maybe you’re just feeling like you need a good blood cleaning?


Well, then, have you looked in the mirror lately? Feeling ugly? Aha – got you there!

You’ll be glad to know that help is on the way. In the form of jamu (pronounced jah-moo), a traditional Indonesian health drink and herbal remedy for just about anything that ails you, even ugliness. Jamu, a concoction of leaves, roots, spices and flowers, originated in Java over 500 years ago, and is still very much a part of the daily lives of many Indonesians. Although the Balinese don’t drink it as much, in Bali you can find jamu stalls in any tourist areas as well as any of the local markets.

One thing going for jamu is its name — it’s cool. Bob Marley would like jamu. “Hope you like jamu, hope you like jamu, hope you like jamu too… Jamu, jamu, jamu, jamu, I wanna jamu with you…”

You’ve probably even seen the jamu women, going house to house, or business to business, selling jamu from large round baskets on their backs full of 2-litre PET bottles of the yellow, orange or brown liquid. The next time you see her, by all means, flag her down and get a taste of the fresh stuff. Just tell her you’re feeling ugly, and she’ll choose from her many bottles and over 7,000 Indonesian medicinal herbs to come up with the perfect potion for you.

You can also buy it from a cart. In Kuta, for example, look for jamu carts painted bright yellow. I presume they are yellow so you can see them at night, since they tend to appear after dark on the sidewalks that would be too crowded for them during the day. If you can’t find them there, just go into any local market and there are likely to be half a dozen jamu stalls, lined up one after the other. Belly up with the locals for a swig of rhizomes and consider yourself sorted.

The stalls display packets of different kinds of jamu they serve. Although there are hundreds of different kinds, here is a quick guide to some of the more common jamu.

Jamu Jago is a jamu manufacturer in Semerang (Java) and is recognizable by its chicken logo as well as the photos on the front of their packets that feature very serious-looking people.

Sehat Pria (healthy man). Features a photo of a shirtless man on the front, arms crossed, muscles bulging. The back of the package tells you this “tonic for men” will “prevent lethargy and improve the body’s immune system, so that they feel fresh, fit and healthy all the time.”

Tujuh Angina (for the common cold). Photo: Two very serious-looking people, surely a husband and wife, looking out towards the sunset over the sea. The picture of a common cold.

Galian Putri (health and beauty). Photo: A woman lying on a beach (on her side), looking satisfied with her beauty. Perhaps because she has attained the “tightened breasts” this formula promises.

Terlambat bulan (late menstruation). Photo: A woman all dressed up, her hair tied up in a bun, and putting her hand to her forehead (as if stressed) while looking at the calendar. Although this jamu is supposed to regulate a woman’s periods, in this case, I would rather suspect the woman is pregnant.

Anton 2 Muda (for women in first six months of pregnancy). “For mother’s and baby’s health.” Photo: A pregnant woman standing by a window, holding on to a curtain. Hmmm.

Anton 2 Tua (for women in last months of pregnancy). After six months of curtain-clutching, a woman should take this jamu to “help the fetus achieve optimum growth and to assure a safe delivery.” Photo: A pregnant woman bringing tea to her husband.

Another jamu brand, Nyonya Meneer (Semarang), has rather than a chicken logo, a photo of herself in the bottom right corner of the packet. Nyonya Meneer offers some interesting types of jamu, such as Galian Kemanten for “newlywed brides or those approaching marriage.” Jamu Klingsir is for hernias; Jamu Wasir takes the itch out of hemorrhoids; Jamu Jerawat will rid you of acne; and Jamu Galian Rapet “revitalizes a woman’s physical relationship with her husband.”

Another common brand, Sido Jodo, is made in Mojokerto (Java), and is recognizable by its sketches of people in various degrees of pain on the front of their packages. They offer jamu for sakit perut (stomachache), batuk (cough) and other common ailments as well as one packet which features a drawing of a giant tooth.

A must-try formula for men is by SidoMuncul and is called KukuBima TL, taken to “stimulate sexual function, enhance zest, desire and energy.” Take according to need.

“Jamu, jamu, jamu, jamu, I wanna jamu with you…”

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