The long cylindrical stone mortar and pestle, the type commonly used in today’s traditional Jamu making, was discovered in Liyangan archaeological site on the slope of Mount Sundoro, Central Java. The site and relics are dated from Medang Mataram kingdom era circa 8th to 10th century, which suggest that the herbal medicine tradition of Jamu already took its roots by then.
During the Japanese occupation, Indonesia’s Jamu Committee was formed in 1944. During the following decades, the popularity of Jamu increased, although physicians had rather ambivalent opinions about it. Most Jamu drinks is made by the age old techniques of herb-smashing and pestle-pummeling, with hand-scrawled recipes passed down generations upon generations. Jamu makers often are elderly women — “Ibu” being an honorary title meaning mother — and Jamu recipes vary from seller to seller. In former times, Ibu handed down the secrets of these healing recipes to their daughters. Those who were skilled at preparing Jamu were consulted by their neighbours and demand eventually resulted in small family businesses.
Indonesians may have already been familiar with the traditional kain kebaya-wearing young to middle-aged Javanese woman carrying bamboo basket filled with bottles of Jamu on her back called Jamu Gendong, as they have been travelling villages and towns alleys. Then came the period when Jamu is sold on the street by hawkers. As time goes by, Jamu is also mass manufactured and exported in sachet packaging which should be dissolved in hot water first before drinking, just like coffee and tea.