Jamu – science behind traditional Balinese medicine and how to make it

It is very interesting to live outside of Western world for a prolonged period of time. One of the things I hear a lot about is alternative medicine. Except in Indonesia it is not alternative, it is something people do and have been doing for thousands of year. The most popular traditional medicine in Indonesia, Bali included, is jamu. The scientist are still investigating if it has all the health benefits the internet shouts about, but we drink it regardless, as it is a very refreshing drink.


What is Jamu?

In the most basic form jamu is grated turmeric mixed with water and strained through a cloth. It is very widely used in Indonesia, and each area, in fact, each healer, has their own recipe. Ginger, galangal and tamarind are other popular ingredients of jamu.

Jamu is a traditional medicinal drink and it is used to prevent and cure diseases. In the basic form it can be drank on daily basis to prevent diseases. If you do happen to fall ill good jamu makers can add specific herbs to help cure a specific ailment.

turmeric on a plate jamu traditional alternative medicine mumbalance


Why make it – benefits of jamu

Turmeric is the main ingredient in most jamu recipes throughout Indonesia. It has been used in eastern medicine for thousands of years. Now western scientists are trying to find out if there are scientific basis for using turmeric to prevent and treat diseases. Many studies have been conducted and more is still needed, but there is a lot of evidence that taking turmeric regularly has many health benefits.

Turmeric has strong antioxidant and anticancer properties, and the traditional methods of preparation enhance those properties.

What are antioxidants? Antioxidants help to get rid of free radicals from the body. It is important as free radicals damage cells and can affect DNA.

There is more anti to turmeric:



anti-septic (our friends sprinkle pure, good quality turmeric powder on their son’s cuts and grazes)

Cancer Research UK is very cautious with the advice they give. A number of small clinical trials do seem to show that turmeric can help stop cancer changes in body and stop the spread of cancer within the body. It is most effective with breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer.

Interestingly, Cancer Research UK also mentions that certain types of cancer are rare in countries where turmeric is eaten on regular basis.

Studies have shown that turmeric can also help:

reduce inflammation

fight infections (through boosting immune system and killing bacteria and viruses)

ease digestive problems, such as indigestion or bloating

treat liver problems

speed up healing of woods (in good quality, pure powder form, not the sort you buy as a spice)

stop blood clots


Why not make it – cons of jamu

As with anything we eat or drink, if we take too much there may be side effects. I have not found any information about side effects of jamu specifically, but I did find some information about turmeric supplements (which is the next best thing).

Turmeric and curcumin supplements are considered safe when taken at the recommended doses. However, taking large amounts of turmeric for long periods of time may cause stomach upset and, in extreme cases, ulcers. People who have gallstones or obstruction of the bile passages should talk to their doctor before taking turmeric.

If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking turmeric supplements. Turmeric may lower blood sugar levels. When combined with medications for diabetes, turmeric could cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Although it is safe to eat foods with turmeric, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take turmeric supplements.

Because turmeric may act like a blood thinner, you should stop taking it at least 2 weeks before surgery. Tell your doctor and surgeon that you have been taking turmeric.

Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

Handling turmeric will make your hands and everything it touches yellow. It is very difficult to remove turmeric stains from clothes, so make sure to wear an apron. Yellow pigment from hands can be removed with a mixture of lime and bicarbonate of soda.ย  Turmeric can actually be used as a natural dye and produces lovely shades of yellow and orange. The image bellow is our beautifully stained jamu grater (for DIYers and zero wasters: isn’t this crude home-made grater a stroke of genious! A sheet of metal, two sticks and some nails).

turmeric stains jamu turmeric lime pepper honey natural home made remedy zero waste


How to make Jamu

Jamu is very easy to prepare. Even children at Big F’s school had a go, as part of learning about Indonesian traditions.

There are many variations of Jamu, as different herbs can be added to treat a particular condition, improve the bitter flavour or extend shelf life. I am going to give you a basic recipe, which requires only 4 ingredients and takes 10 minutes to prepare. Jamu can be stored in the fridge for a few days, but it is always best to drink it fresh.

jamu ingredients turmeric lime pepper honey natural home made remedy zero waste mumbalance


a handful of fresh turmeric roots

500 ml of warm water

honey to taste

lime juice to taste

a few crushed peppercornsย 


Optional ingredients:

Adding a fresh raw egg yolk has been scientifically shown to help absorption of curcumin into the body. Or you can add a little virgin coconut oil if you can’t stomach the idea of drinking a raw egg yolk. Curcumin binds with the fat and is easier to absorb.


Please only use fresh turmeric. Dried turmeric has too little curcumin, which is the active ingredient.


jamu turmeric lime pepper honey natural home made remedy zero waste1. Thoroughly clean the turmeric to get rid of soil, but leave the skin on.

grating turmeric jamu ingredients turmeric lime pepper honey natural home made remedy zero waste2. Grate the turmeric roots into a bowl. Add roughly 500 ml of warm water. Mix and strain through a sieve or cloth.

funnel made with banana leaf and tooth pic jamu ingredients turmeric lime pepper honey natural home made remedy zero waste3. Pour into a bottle. (Zero waste tip, we don’t have a funnel so we’ve made one out of banana leaf and a tooth pic).

glass of jamu turmeric lime pepper honey natural home made remedy zero waste

When serving add honey and lime juice to taste. It will cover the bitter flavour and turn your jamu into a refreshing drink. And make sure to add a few crushed peppercorns. Piperine (the active ingredient in pepper) boosts absorption of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric).

Jamu can be served hot or cold.




What is your favourite traditional, home-made remedy? I would love t hear from you so do leave me a comment or get in touch on Twitter.

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how to make Jamu traditional balinese medicine home made natural remedy

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