Moving to a small island in Southeast Asia has enriched the lives of most who have chosen Bali as their temporary or permanent home. We are welcomed at ceremonies, our houses are blessed with botanical offerings that possess a beauty and evoke profound feelings of peace and gratitude. The nourishment of the soul is only one aspect of beneficial rewards both locals and guests reap from this enchanted island. Superfoods thrive In Bali and there is one in particular that is utilized in distinctive ways for varied health and gastronomic purposes.
For 1200 years the Indonesians have been making Jamu: the ancient Indonesian art of herbal healing. While hundreds of plants can be used to make Jamu for various ailments and beautification rituals, one of the key ingredients in the most commonly found Jamu in Bali is turmeric. Part of the ginger family and known for its color, a vivid orange, turmeric, is what gives cuisines throughout Asia and the Middle East their vibrant yellow hues. This radiant tone, scared and associated with the sun in some cultures, is the least of this wonder root’s super powers.
Curcuma domestica: anti-inflammatory, painkiller, antiseptic, blood tonic, circulation booster, anti-bacterial –fungal -viral and -oxidant, are only a few its properties. Traditional healers and ethnobotanists have used turmeric to treat anything from asthma and eczema to osteoarthritis and dysentery. Fortunate for those living in this part of the world, one need not go far to find a bottle or glass containing a potion with these therapeutic properties. Whether it is carried in a basket on the back of an 80 year old woman walking from village to village, or on the side of a motorbike driven by a young man, or served in a modern raw food café filled with mingling tourists or even at the 5 star Alila Uluwatu resort, Jamu made with turmeric is readily available in Bali.
The most common Jamu in Bali is usually a mix of turmeric, lime or tamarind and honey. Turmeric is not for all and it would be untrue to state that all individuals share the love of this ugly little root and the tinctures made with it. It may take the taste buds some time to adjust to the flavor but once they are, fans will be at high risk for addiction. On a recent trip back to California I found myself yearning for Jamu. With climate and diet changes I began to feel the symptoms of both a cold and digestion issues. Despite having the luxury of 101 million choices of medicines at the CVS, all I wanted was Jamu. Nothing else would satisfy. While there, I also recall speaking with my sister who lives in Barcelona and for ten minutes about turmeric and how she was making Jamu for the elderly woman who suffers from arthritis living next door, as well as her friends who needed a boost as they opened a new boutique hotel. Another friend had a motorcycle accident and after rounds of antibiotics, both oral and topical, found little relief until a local woman started to administer chewed up pieces of turmeric onto the wounds and served him glass upon glass of Jamu.
Among the many gifts this magical land has offered to its people, turmeric is surely one that many have added to their recipes for good health and overall well-being.
With gratitude to Bali, its healers, its plants and their wisdom.
“Traditional healers and ethnobotanists have used turmeric to treat anything from asthma and eczema to osteoarthritis and dysentery.”