Ancient Healing, Modern Practice

Writer Karen Fong | September 25, 2014

Jamu practitioners have also lent their expertise to the spa experience. At MesaStila resort, a former coffee plantation in Central Java, a local tabib, or traditional healer, is on hand to offer guests treatments. “He is a well-known healer from the nearby village,” explains Erny Sulistyawati, MesaStila’s Health and Wellness Manager. “Guests can get a consultation with him and he will prescribe healing through a traditional herbal drink or more physical treatments like reflexology or pressure point manipulation to ease ailments and improve health. All the Jamu treatments are made fresh at the resort, with most prepared by the tabib. Most of the plant ingredients are grown here on the plantation,” adds Sulistyawati.

At Amanjiwo, also in Central Java, guests can experience the Pijat massage that is traditionally performed by a dukun. This intuitive massage involves the resort’s therapists, all of whom are orang pintar (spiritual people), intuiting what the body needs. As a result, treatments can be intense, involve deep strokes and acupressure, but the resulting release is both relaxing and healing. The resort also serves kunir asem, a traditional Jamu drink made using fresh ingredients grown in the resort’s garden. Served before or after a spa treatment, it is a basic health tonic, which takes on slimming properties when betel leaf is added.


Traditionally, preparing Jamu concoctions was time-consuming and tedious, requiring hours and hours of boiling and blending herbs together. Today, its herbal properties have been harnessed by companies like Nyonya Meneer, Mustika Ratu, Air Mancur and Jamu Jago, who sell Jamu in convenient packs. “There is a trend now in Indonesia for Jamu drinks to be sold in drink pack form and as ready-to-mix powders. This reaches the ‘instant’ drink market through convenience stores and supermarkets and fast food outlets,” says Professor Bodeker.

Spas too are taking advantage of the modernisation of Jamu using ready-made packs that are more efficient, less messy and time-consuming to prepare. But as Professor Bodeker posits, “Is this loss of tradition? Or is tradition adapting to new technologies and consumers? That’s for the spa research community to answer in the years to come.” In some cases, spas have also added ingredients like gula jawa (Javanese brown sugar) to sweeten bitter remedies. But Beers believes, “When done ethically and well, it is a perfect way to share and preserve the ancient knowledge, and a great way to share the culture.”

Amanjiwo’s kunir asem is served before a massage or spa treatment. It illustrates how different combinations of herbs effect different cures.

Turmeric: 250 grams

Brown sugar: 500 grams

Tamarind: 250 grams

Water: 1 litre

Pandan leaves: 2 pieces

A pinch of salt

Roast the turmeric in the oven until gold and chop it into rough pieces. Mix all the ingredients together with the turmeric. Bring water to a boil and slowly add the other ingredients. Simmer for 40 minutes and if needed add sugar or honey to taste.

Jamu crosses the line between a healthy tonic for prevention of illness, and a cure taken for specific problems
~ Susan Jane Beers