Jamu, Indonesian Cultural Heritage

Jamu comes from the Old Javanese language, derived from the words Djampi (Jampi) and Oesodo (Usada). Djampi is a mantra (prayer), belief (belief system), while Oesodo means medication with natural ingredients (medicine) or health. So, Jamu means treatment using natural ingredients accompanied by mantras (prayers)/beliefs with the aim of achieving health.

Jamu has been known for a long time by Indonesian people, especially Javanese people. For a long time, indigenous knowledge about the use of herbal medicine for the medication of various diseases in society has been known. This can be seen in the large amount of evidence from temple reliefs in Java, ancient manuscripts that have been translated so that they can be more easily accessed, starting from manuscript, primbon “Javanese almanac of human and universe relationship”, personal notes, and oral narratives that have been received and then recorded and can be read. The existing books and manuscripts were written by poets, princesses in the Javanese palace, and herbal medicine enthusiasts.

The ancestors believed in God’s power, who had created nature to be cultivated by humans as well as possible. For every disease, God has given medicine through nature. Therefore, the ancestors always developed herbal medicine to take advantage of this abundant natural wealth from time to time.

Temple Reliefs (8th Century) and Other Artifacts

The use of traditional medicine in Indonesia began centuries ago. This is proven by the discovery of historical evidence in the form of reliefs on temples with depictions of stories or several ancient writings that show the use of herbal medicine as traditional medicine by people since ancient times. One of the reliefs that shows the use of herbal medicine in Indonesia (Java) around the 8th century is the Karmawibhangga, relief found in Borobudur Temple. It describes the existence of medication and also the use of medicinal plants. Apart from that, it is also found in the reliefs of Prambanan Temple, Penataran Temple, Sukuh Temple and Tegawangi Temple (Boelman in Gardjito, et al, 2018).

During the Majapahit kingdom era, the profession of traditional healers during the kingdom was called Acaraki, which is originating from the Madhawapura inscription. It is an inscription that contains notes about the profession. Pipisan and gandik are said to be the primary weapons of Acaraki for concocting herbal medicine in the Majapahit era. It has an important role in improving the health and healing of kings and queens so they can live long lives. Acaraki is referred to as a special profession, recorded in the Madhawapura Inscription, Balawi Inscription, Liyangan Site, and the reliefs of Borobudur Temple. From a number of sources, it is clear that herbal medicine was mass-produced at that time to support public health during the Majapahit Kingdom era. Because in the 13th-15th century AD the ingredients were simple and manual, the Acaraki used pipisan and gandik to extract spices and other herbal ingredients (liputan6.com).

Other evidence also includes artifacts in the form of mortars and pestles. The ancient Javanese people who lived in the VIII century AD or during the Hindu Mataram era, knew and used this kitchen utensil for agricultural and household purposes. This is known from records in several ancient manuscripts such as Sutasoma, Sumanasantaka, and Tantu Panggelaran (tosupedia.com).

Thus, it can be said that the original Javanese knowledge about healing diseases has been developing for a long time and the treatment is carried out with materials found in their living environment. Thus, humans and the environment have proven to be an interaction that is beneficial for human life, especially in terms of health.

Centhini Manuscript (1814-1823)

One of the written pieces of evidence in the form of an ancient manuscript that first contained writings about herbal medicine was Centhini Manuscript, written in 1814-1823. Centhini Manuscript, is a joint literacy work under the leadership of Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Adipati Anom Amengkunegara III, Crown Prince Kanjeng Susuhunan Pakubuwono IV (becoming Pakubuwono V). Assisted by poets from the Surakarta Palace, namely Raden Ngabehi Yasadipura II, Raden Ngabehi Ranggasutrasna Tapsiranom, Pangeran Jungut Mandureja, Kiai Kasan Besari and Kiai Muhammad Minhad.

Centhini Manuscript became a sort of Javanese encyclopedia which contained various stories about customs, procedures and sciences used by Javanese people at that time. In several volumes, there are stories that illustrate the use of herbal medicine along with herbal recipes. Various types of herbal medicine are written, namely herbal medicine that is drunk, chewed, placed on the forehead (pilis), applied to the belly (tapel), applied to the body (param), to soak parts of the body (rendhem), placed or dripped on the sick part and sprayed onto the part of the body being treated (spray). Early Javanese people also involved God in healing illnesses by reciting the Ayatul Kursi or other prayers when treating them.

Kawruh Chapter Jampi-Jampi Jawi Manuscript (1831)

This manuscript is a collection of original Indonesian (Javanese) medicinal herbs, which according to records were written on the orders of Sri Susuhunan Pakubuwono V. The book contains 1.166 recipes consisting of 922 recipes for natural ingredients and 244 recipes in the form of notes on tattoos and amulets or pictures of prayers, chants and mantras that have healing power (Sutarjadi, et al in Gardjito, et al, 2018).

Mrs. Kloppenburg-Versteegh Book (1907-1911)

In the pre-independence era, herbal medicine was also studied by Europeans, especially the Dutch. This book was written by Jans Kloppenburg-Versteegh. This book contains plant origins, Latin names, morphology and parts of plants that can be used, medical recipes and health care instructions to avoid health problems experienced by the Javanese people. Jans made observations while living in Java and the results of interviews with people who have used it for years. So, this book contains the experiences of Javanese people using plant materials to treat various diseases for many years.

Jampi Jawi Primbon Manuscript (1933)

A note written by Brotosuparto published by Tan Khoen Swie as evidence of the genuine wealth of the Javanese people shows the great need for medicine in preserving the lives of the Javanese people. This note contains the names of diseases and herbs which are ordered from 1 to 290 and are written in Chapters I-XVII. This book is also an inventory of diseases and medication using natural ingredients.

Betaljemur Adammakna Primbon Book (1939)

A kind of Javanese encyclopedia created by Kanjeng Raden Hadipati Danurejo Papatih Dalem during the reign of Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono VI and published by Raden Somodidjojo in 1939 during the reign of Sultan Hamengku Buwono VII. The primbon contains various explanations about all things experienced in human life, including time, type of work, circumstances and matters relating to the life cycle. Apart from that, there is also a description of herbal medicine recipes for male, female and infant diseases.

Traditional Cooking and Herbal Medicine Book (1954)

Written by R.Ay. Bintang Abdulkadir, represents Javanese society who is considered well-off because she is a doctor’s wife and a Javanese female figure who was quite educated in her time. Mrs. Kadir, who is a doctor’s wife, still maintains traditional food and herbal medicine to care for her family’s health. The completeness of the types of herbs and concoctions used shows that the general public outside the palace also has knowledge passed down from generation to generation in maintaining and caring for their health.

Tjabe Pujang Heritage of the Ancestors (1965)

This work was written by Sudarman Mardisiswoyo and Harsono Rajamangunsudarso and published by Prapantja. “Puyang Chili” is a type of herbal medicine that is quite popular in society as a means of healing in traditional medicine which is the legacy of our ancestors. There are two types of treatments offered in this book. The first type is a treatment using only one plant, while the second type is a treatment using more than one type of plant boiled together.

Until now, literacy about herbal medicine continues to be developed and written by local and global communities, by introducing the diversity of medicinal plant biodiversity in Indonesia and its medicinal uses in Indonesian society.

Written by:

Made Ayu Aryani

(Jamu Queen, Holistic Healing Coach, Karma Reader)

English translation by: N M Yanik Nopia


Gardjito, M., Harmayani, E., Suharjono, K.I. 2018. Jamu Pusaka Penjaga Kesehatan Bangsa Asli Indonesia. Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press. 



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