What Is Jamu Used For?

What Is Jamu Used For?

Looking good is a way of life for every Indonesian woman and a woman is respected for maintaining her own health and beauty. The art of total beauty, particularly hair care, is recorded in Javanese temple reliefs from the 9th to the 17th centuries, but nobody had access to their secret recipes without royal permission.

Within the palace, a Javanese lady of ran received a daily massage and lulur, a smoothing rub made from rice, herbs, pulverized bark and flowers. The paste leaves skin soft, clean and smooth and gives Asian skin a golden glow. In later years it helps to slow the aging and wrinkling process. At court, a lulur rub is followed by herbal bath.

Palace manuscripts say that outer beauty is achieved with creams and lotions, but inner beauty is more demanding as it requires mental and physical effort, such as drinking jamu and following a total regime of fasting and introspective thought.

Nowadays jamu is popular all over Indonesia. But it’s especially strong in Java--Solo, Yogyakarta, Semarang and Surabaya is big jamu centers. People in both Central and East Java have inherited herbal medicine skills so jamu shops are very common in Solo and Yogyakarta while universities in Jakarta and Yogyakarta have centers of jamu research and conduct clinical trials. In all these towns, a good jamu shop in a city market will carry a huge stock of factory-made pills, along with its own fresh jamu. The market at Jalan Pintu Besar in Jakarta’s Chinatown is by far the largest supplier of jamu ingredients to the trade--it’s regarded as a wholesaler to many manufacturers all over Indonesia.

In essence, beauty care in Indonesia is a total system as traditional medicines and beauty products are pert of the same programme. Indonesian women are introduced to jamu right from birth. To give her their blessing, female relative sprinkle her with perfumed water and give her Jamu Gadis which is made with a little earth that she picks up from the garden. The ceremony symbolises the girl’s entry into womanhood, her fertility and future resilience, and her eternal love for family and friends. At her wedding, a traditional bride-to-be is confined to the bedroom for 40 days before the event, and given a daily lulur, so she’s at her most beautiful on her wedding day. As a final touch, on the night before the wedding, she drinks a special aphrodisiac jamu, called Jamu Kamajaya Kamaratih, named after a famous loving couple in the Wayang theatre.

Jamu helps a woman’s beauty in other ways--there’s Jamu Langsing, which removes excess fats and liquids; Galian Singset, which tones the body and muscles; and Jamu Parem, which helps the body remain sexily curvy if you’re getting too thin. Plus there are jamus to help you get your figure back after the birth of a child, like Darmi Galian Luntur which helps get the figure back by purifying the blood and cleaning the uterus or womb during the seven days after delivery. 

The Secret of Javanese Jamu

If the womb is not properly “cleaned”, Indonesians believe that the mother may experience swollen breasts and irregular periods. A herbal sit bath to soothe and restore the swollen tissue helps, along with massages and tight herbal wraps performed by experienced post natal masseuses.

No woman’s beauty routine is complete without fragrances. These come mostly from flowers in Indonesia, but one of the most popular is still musk oil. Courtiers used it to make a fragrance called Dedes. It was so popular that it even travelled to Europe where ladies from the French Court of Versailles considered it a worthy rival to the best French fragrances. Today Indonesian women love sandalwood, patchouli, orange and kelembak or Javanese rhubarb, plus mangir (barks used in lulur) and floral essences, which are the main ingredients in the popular Lulur Sari Bunga. Pounded roots and leaves such as kunyit (tumeric), rose, myrtle and ginger are also used in lulur to make skin smooth and fragrant.

Today few Indonesians make their own jamu as it’s easier to buy it--there are lots of ingredients to know, including nine kinds of ginger, lemons, line, carrots, spinach, celery, rice, coconuts, oranges, aloe vera, ylang-ylang, roses, betel leaves, tamarind, eggs, honey and sandalwood.

However, you can use some easy jamu practices at home--for example leftover tea water (which has antioxidant properties) is used to clean the face, and for rinsing hair to discourage hair loss and dandruff. Dandruff can also be treated with pineapple and the scalp can be rubbed with cut aloe vera to encourage new hair growth.

The essence of jamu is in its simplicity--jamu keeps the body in perfect health while massages, lotions and cosmetics enhance it. This fusion of health and beauty is the lynchpin of jamu and the secret behind the success of the top Indonesian businesswomen Martha Tilaar, who’s made a fortune from jamu using modern methods of production and strict quality control. She now employs 6,000 people and has over 25 Martina Berto beauty salons in Indonesia, Pakistan and Brunei, distributing a range of health and beauty jamu. To create her beauty products, she sought an audience with the Queen of Mangku Negoro Palace in Solo and became the first person outside royal circles to be entrusted with the secret formulas. She also researched ancient Javanese recipes at the palace of Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX in Yogyakarta, where she learned that Javanese court ladies followed a health and beauty regime based on the concept of “inner and outer beauty”. As she says, “In Indonesia, beauty is brought out from inside. A woman does not have to be born beautiful to be beautiful, but she must know how to ring out her beauty.” This was the inspiration for Martha Tilaar’s best-selling range of beauty jamu -- Sari Ayu or Essence of Beauty.


Jamu should be stored in clean, dry, cool conditions. Since they are organic, jamu ingredients are easily contaminated. For instance, if jamu becomes too wet, it gets moldy. Tests conducted at Widya Mandala University, Surabaya, on jamu supplied by jamu gendong (jamu hawkers) found that 80 percent of the potions were below the Indonesian Department of Health standards. The researchers concluded that incorrectly stored raw materials and lack of clean water were the cause of this contamination. That’s why it’s best to visit only a well respected and recommended jamu gendong.

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