(WellnessNova.com) - Bali is an island steeped in rich culture and spirituality, and it can easily be seen and experienced every day as a tourist. Take a walk down a side street in the busier parts of the island or visit a local village and you are likely to see a religious ceremony or a beautiful Balinese woman carrying a tray of floral offerings for her family temple.
Enchanting traditional gamelan music can be heard drifting from temples where young dancers tell the stories of their devout Hindu faith. Incense fills the air and the island is host to a stunning array of plants and flowers that are incorporated into daily life in many ways, including health remedies.
Jamu is the ancient tradition of medicine in Bali and can be found all over the country, where the local people use all natural ingredients from plants to cure a number of illnesses through bodywork and herbal tonics. Recipes for different tonics and treatments vary from island to island and every jamu maker has their own special recipe.
Jamu traditions are thought to have come to Bali via India, but were possibly adapted and changed to incorporate the local plants, which differ from those in India. Dating back at least to the 8th century, jamu remedies have been primarily an oral tradition, passed on from one generation to the next and enduring today. Some written records of jamu recipes have been discovered, and one book dating back to the 1700s contains 3,000 different herbal recipes.
Visitors to Bali have also caught on to the powerful healing benefits of jamu, no doubt in part due to the popularity of the film Eat, Pray, Love. There are many classes now where one can learn how to make Balinese natural health treatments at home. These include not only jamu drinks, but body scrubs made of ground rice, and oils for hair and body containing the local beautiful flowers and herbs.
Today in Bali, jamu drinks are sold at local markets and by vendors who carry various coloured bottles on their backs in a basket, or with a bicycle. You can even buy a jamu drink in the convenience store, and they can also be found in powder form. Vendors can recommend a tonic for every ailment. There are drinks for fever, for high and low blood pressure, and even for serious illnesses, like dengue.
While the efficacy of the various jamus is debatable and treating dengue fever with crushed papaya leaves can be seen as not only hazardous but foolhardy by some in the West, the people of Bali take their jamu very seriously and it has become an important part of daily life for many who cannot afford hospital treatment for different ailments.
Jamu Kunyit Asam
One jamu that cannot be questioned for its amazing health benefits is made with turmeric and ginger, known as Jamu Kunyit Asam, and can easily be made at home with access to the right ingredients. The main ingredient is fresh turmeric root and the jury seems to be out as to whether this can be substituted for powdered turmeric. Some argue that powdered turmeric is too bitter and not pure enough to use in making jamu and others recognize that it is a valid substitute.
Fresh turmeric can usually be found in the produce section of your local Asian supermarket. Palm sugar and tamarind can also be found here. Palm sugar comes in hard, disc-like brown pucks, while tamarind is a dark and sticky fruit found in long pods or prepared in little square blocks wrapped in plastic. If you can’t find palm sugar, maple syrup makes a healthy alternative and lime juice can be used in place of tamarind, although the taste will be slightly different.
The health benefits of turmeric are now almost common knowledge and it is recognized for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. It can prevent heart attacks and even diabetes. Ginger is great in aiding circulation and warming the body, as well as helping with digestive troubles. Tamarind is high in vitamin C and it gives a nice sweet and sour flavor to the drink.
While the recipe varies somewhat depending on who you ask, there are a few key ingredients that go into it that are the same everywhere. You can drink this jamu warm or cold and it will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
How to Make Balinese Tumeric and Ginger Tonic (Jamu Kunyit Asam)
Note: Turmeric is a bright yellow rhizome and will stain your hands and clothes. You may wish to wear gloves when preparing the turmeric and make sure you are not wearing anything you don’t mind getting stained.
- 1 cup of fresh turmeric root, peeled and chopped finely
- ¼ cup of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped finely
- ¼ cup fresh tamarind or store-bought tamarind paste
- ¼ cup palm sugar, grated or chopped fine
- 5 to 6 cups of water
After chopping the turmeric and ginger, add it to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth with a cup of water.
Pour the blended mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the remaining water and other ingredients. Cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for half an hour.
Let the mixture cool down and strain using a cheesecloth or fine mesh. You may now drink the jamu as a hot tea, or put it in a few bottles in the fridge and consume within a week. Feel free to drink a few cups at a time or just a small shot if you aren’t that fond of the taste.
Give this recipe a try and embrace the healing powers of Balinese traditional medicine. Next time you feel like reaching for a pill, grab a jamu instead. It could be just as effective as an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, and incorporating jamu into your weekly wellness regimen will be sure to improve your overall health.