A herbal tincture that originated in Java's royal courts more than 1,300 years ago is being given a new twist by young Indonesians
In the streets of Central Java, women carefully load their bamboo baskets with bottles of jamu, a homemade elixir. Their hands are stained yellow from the turmeric that they have freshly ground to a pulp that morning with a pestle and mortar, along with other rhizomes, roots, fruits, bark and leaves to add to their tinctures. As the sun starts to rise, the jamu gendong (jamu sellers) make their way along their daily route by foot or by scooter, stopping only to serve one of their botanical infusions to a thirsty customer.
Some carry as many as eight bottles, each containing a bespoke jamu designed to give the customer a boost at any stage of life, from childhood to old age. They take care not to spill a drop as they pour the precious drink into a cup. For in Indonesians' eyes, the bitter-tasting drink is not solely designed to quench your thirst, but jamu means a "prayer for health" in old Javanese.
Jamu is such an integral part of Indonesian culture that the country has nominated it for the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage List. "At its most basic, jamu is a herbal medicine; at its fullest, it is a reflection of how a culture maintains wellbeing over thousands of generations," said Metta Murdaya, author of Jamu Lifestyle: Indonesian Herbal Wellness Tradition.
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