A traditional Indonesian herbal medicine made of fairly simple ingredients that you may even have in your home right now, Jamu is a natural and anti-inflammatory tonic of sorts with numerous potential health benefits, including helping with digestion and pain relief.
Even though Jamu is new to many of us, it has been part of Indonesian culture for centuries and is a huge part of everyday life there. It can be made from a variety of roots, herbs, flowers, and spices, such as ginger, honey, and turmeric.
"Jamu utilizes the abundant herbs and spices of Indonesia to make healing tonics that many Indonesians drink daily, with recipes handed down over the generations through healers and family members," explains Metta Murdaya, founder of Juara Skincare.
Traditionally, the ingredients are mixed together in a mortar before straining, says Michael Smith, who is a naturopath and founder of Planet Naturopath.
"The most popular type of jamu is called 'majun,' which is made from coconut milk and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, ginger root, and turmeric," he says.
Jamu often has a slightly sweet flavor due to the addition of cane sugar or honey, "while others might use ginger root extract instead," Smith says. "Its appearance ranges from light brown to dark red due to different ingredients used."
Jamu Has an Interesting—and Important—History
Incorporating wisdom and health practices from Indonesia and other Asian regions, Jamu is a rich local tradition in Indonesia.
"Jamu is a millennia-old Indonesian herbal wellness tradition that places joy at the heart of well-being," Murdaya says. "As a country known to be a spice island, Indonesia has been a center of trade by the Arabs, Indians, Chinese, and more, so over the centuries, influences from their health traditions have been adopted into some Jamu practices, making our holistic health practice a rich local tradition that also incorporates the wisdom from other Asian regions."
Jamu Is Really About a Whole Lifestyle
In Indonesian culture, Jamu is more than simply a drink. "We believe that to become and stay healthy requires being on a joyful journey that prioritizes sensory appreciation and community connection," Murdaya says. "To feel Jamu's full effects is to embrace not just the products, but also the philosophy of health that recognizes the individual as part of a community and joy as not a luxury, but a necessity."
Recently, Jamu has seen a surge of interest—both within Indonesia and beyond. In Indonesia, Murdaya says there's been a renaissance of Jamu as the value of living a natural and healthy lifestyle has become more widely appreciated. People are embracing traditional Jamu for health reasons and to inspire their own takes on this drink, which they then sell.
"Many hotels and restaurants have begun to feature Jamu prominently in their menus, which gives it much more exposure to western tourists, especially in Java and Bali," Murdaya says. She adds that the Indonesian government has also increased its support of the Jamu industry, helping businesses grow and promoting the development and export of Jamu products to share the tradition of Jamu overseas.
Eager to learn more about Jamu? Keep scrolling for some of Jamu's potential health benefits.
Jamu Has a Ton of Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
"Jamu is made from a few different anti-inflammatory ingredients, turmeric being the most potent," explains registered dietitian Trista Best. The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin, which is responsible for turmeric's deep and saturated yellow hue. Importantly, it's also what gives turmeric its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin may help reduce inflammatory conditions in the body, such as arthritis and IBS.
But turmeric isn't the only ingredient in Jamu with anti-inflammatory properties: Ginger contains plant compounds called gingerols that make it an anti-inflammatory.
"By reducing inflammation in the body, [the body] is better able to provide an appropriate immune response to real threats and all other body functions can work more efficiently," Best says.
It Contains Antioxidants
As far as healthy ingredients are concerned, turmeric is a major win. One big reason is because of compounds in turmeric called curcuminoids, which work as antioxidants in the body, helping to reduce inflammation and prevent oxidative damage.
"If allowed to occur, this damage would harm healthy cells," Best says. "Once these cells replicate, chronic conditions ensue."
Think of it this way: Free radicals can cause all sorts of damage in the body including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and more. But antioxidants, such as those found in turmeric, play an important role in fighting against and preventing this free radical damage.
Ginger May Contain Antiviral Properties
Ginger contains natural antiviral properties, Best tells us. "Specifically, these compounds inhibit viral replication and prevent viruses from entering host cells," she says.
Ginger's health benefits are nothing new—the root of this powerful plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It was even once listed by Ptolemy as a notable plant remedy, Smith says.
It Contains Important Electrolytes
Unsweetened coconut water is rich in potassium, which is an important mineral and electrolyte that helps keep us hydrated. It has many benefits, like helping with muscle and nerve functioning. Best says that aside from helping with hydration, blood pressure control, and reducing muscle cramps, potassium may also soothe existing burning from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
Honey Contains Natural Antibacterial Properties
In its raw form, honey has natural antibacterial properties. "This makes it a great addition to anyone's diet, especially [for someone who is] suffering from gastrointestinal issues, food poisoning, or simply wanting to prevent potential gut issues," Best says.
Jamu has many potential benefits, from reducing inflammation to helping with an upset stomach and fighting damage from free radicals.
Curious to try Jamu and ready to make your own? Try with this recipe. Along with a blender and a strainer, all you'll need to get started are fresh turmeric and ginger, honey, 2–3 limes, and some water. Enjoy!