Jamu (old spelling Djamu) is traditional medicine in Indonesia. It is predominantly herbal medicine made from natural materials, such as parts of plants such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. Materials acquired from animals, such as honey, royal jelly, milk and ayam kampung eggs are also often used.Jamu can be found throughout Indonesia, however it is most prevalent in Java, where Mbok Jamu, the traditional kain kebaya-wearing young to middle-aged Javanese woman carrying bamboo basket filled with bottles of jamu on her back, travelling villages and towns alleys, offering her fares of traditional herbal medicine. In many large cities jamu herbal medicine is sold on the street by hawkers carry a refreshing drink, usually bitter but sweetened with honey or palm sugar. The traditional method on carrying the jamu in basket is called Jamu Gendong (lit. carried jamu), however today some jamu seller might ride bicycle. There is also modest street-side warung tent stall that specializing on selling jamus.
Herbal medicine is also produced in factories by large companies such as Air Mancur, Nyonya Meneer or Djamu Djago, and sold at various drug stores in sachet packaging. Packaged dried jamu should be dissolved in hot water first before drinking. Nowadays herbal medicine is also sold in the form of tablets, caplets and capsules. These jamu brands are united in an Indonesian Herbal and Traditional Medicine Association, locally known as Gabungan Pengusaha Jamu (GP Jamu). Today, jamu is a growing local herbal medicine industry worth millions of dollars. In 2014, Jamu contributes Rp 3 trillion (US$73.29 million) to overall sales.Jamu is claimed to have originated in the Mataram Kingdom era, some 1300 years ago. The stone mortar and pestle with long cylindrical stone mortar — the type commonly used in today’s traditional jamu making, was discovered in Liyangan archaeological site on the slope of Mount Sundoro, Central Java. The site and relics are dated from Medang Mataram kingdom era circa 8th to 10th century, which suggest that the herbal medicine tradition of jamu already took its roots by then. The bas-reliefs on Borobudur depicts the image of people ground something with stone mortar and pestle, drink seller, physician and masseuse treating their clients.All of these scenes might be interpreted as a traditional herbal medicine and health-related treatments in ancient Java. The Madhawapura inscription from Majapahit period mentioned a specific profession of herbs mixer and combiner (herbalist), called Acaraki. The medicine book from Mataram dated from circa 1700 contains 3,000 entries of jamu recipes, while Javanese classical literature Serat Centhini (1814) describes some jamu herbal concoction recipes.
Though heavily influenced by Ayurveda from India, Indonesia is a vast archipelago with numerous indigenous plants not found in India, and include plants similar to Australia beyond the Wallace Line. Jamu may vary from region to region, and often not written down, especially in remote areas of the country.
Jamu was (and is) practiced by indigenous physicians (dukuns). However, it is generally prepared and prescribed by women, who sell it on the streets. Generally, the different jamu prescriptions are not written down but handed down between the generations. Some early handbooks, however, have survived. A jamu handbook that was used in households throughout the Indies was published in 1911 by Mrs. Kloppenburg-Versteegh.
One of the first European physicians to study jamu was Jacobus Bontius (Jacob de Bondt), who was a physician in Batavia (today’s Jakarta) in the early seventeenth century. His writings contain information about indigenous medicine. A comprehensive book on indigenous herbal medicine in the Indies was published by Rumphius, who worked on Ambon during the early eighteenth century. He published a book called Herbaria Amboinesis (The Ambonese Spice Book). During the nineteenth century, European physicians had a keen interest in jamu, as they often did not know how to treat the diseases they encountered in their patients in the Indies. The German physician Carl Waitz published on jamu in 1829. In the 1880s and 1890s, A.G. Vorderman published extensive accounts on jamu as well. Pharmacological research on herbal medicine was undertaken by M. Greshoff and W.G. Boorsma at the pharmacological laboratory at the Bogor Botanical Garden.