Celebrating the Art of Jamu

A new book examines the age-old benefits — and continued appeal — of Indonesian health tonics.

Left to right: Jamu ladies with their baskets of herbal tonics continue to be a familiar sight in the streets of Indonesia; kunyit asam is a classic jamu recipe known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. (Photos: Martin Westlake)

From cold-brew concoctions in specialist cafés to skincare products and artisanal ice cream, Indonesia’s traditional herbal medicine, jamu, has been finding new expressions as of late. But the age-old natural remedies remain largely unknown outside the country’s borders. Enter Jamu Lifestyle: the Indonesian Herbal Wellness Tradition (Afterhours Books) by Metta Murdaya, the globetrotting founder of jamu-inspired skincare brand Juara. Coming out in mid-July, this beautifully photographed book is as much a celebration of her roots as it is a guide for incorporating Indonesian wellness practices into our busy lives.

The first few chapters explain what jamu is, delving into its fascinating history and providing a detailed rundown of key ingredients; subsequent recipes allow readers to recreate both classic preparations and jamu-esque mocktails at home. Murdaya then diverges from the textbook definition of jamu, saying that we can (and should) harness the same health-boosting spices, herbs, and rhizomes in facial masks and body scrubs, or in dishes such as beef rendang. And there’s an added human element: the book is peppered with intimate portraits of local characters, alongside images of Indonesia’s fertile landscapes and natural bounty. The accompanying photographs by Martin Westlake, a regular DestinAsian contributor, make this volume a sight for sore eyes.

Grinding jamu ingredients by hand. (Photo: Martin Westlake)

This article originally appeared in the June/August 2021 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Out of the Bottle”).

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