On 6 December 2023, during the 18th Convention Committee of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Kasane, Botswana, ‘Indonesian Jamu Wellness Culture’ was officially recognised by as one of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. For Indonesia, Jamu is the 13th Intangible Cultural Heritage which was successfully inscribed into UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list. 

The news was reported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology where the Minister himself, Nadiem Makarim, expressed pride in the designation of Jamu Wellness Culture as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

Jamu Wellness Culture encompasses the traditional skills and cultural values associated with traditional natural medicines made from herbs and spices as well as traditional treatment methods that aim to improve health by boosting immunity. Jamu culture is believed to have been active since the 8th century AD, as evidenced by reliefs at Borobudur temple and ancient manuscripts, such as Kakawin Ramayana and Serat Centini.


UNESCO notes herbal medicinal culture as a valubale means of cultural expression and of building connections between humans and the universe. UNESCO also recognises that the Wellness Culture of Herbal Medicine supports the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 3 Health and Wellbeing, Goal 5 Gender Equality, Goal 12 Responsible Production and Consumption, and Goal 16 Life on Land.

Deputy Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Indonesia to UNESCO, Prof. Ismunandar added that the process of establishing Jamu Healthy Culture as UNESCO Intangible Heritage is a joint effort driven from the local community facilitated by the government. This community involvement is considered very positive by UNESCO, even said to be an example for other countries. Prof. Ismunandar expressed his hope that the inscription of Jamu as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage can increase the awareness and love of the Indonesian people for Jamu, and Intangible Cultural Heritage in general.

Jamu is a nutritious drink that Indonesians regularly consume as a health drink, to prevent and cure diseases. Quoted from the website Indonesia.go.id, the word jamu comes from two ancient Javanese words, djampi (jampi) means healing or prayer and oesodo (usodo) means health. So it can be said, the meaning of jamu is as a healing or prayer that can be a medicine for health.

Meanwhile, on the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology’s Jalur Rempah website, jamu is formed from the words Jawa and  ngramu, which means to mix or collect. So it can simply be translated as a concoction made by Javanese people or a concoction that comes from Java.

The tradition of drinking jamu itself has experienced ups and downs according to its era. Broadly speaking, this tradition is divided from pre-historic times during the processing of forest products, the Japanese colonial era, the early days of Indonesian independence, to the present day. It is estimated that this herbal medicine has been used by the community since the Mataram Kingdom era. However, the tradition of drinking jamu had experienced a decline, precisely when modern science first entered Indonesia.

At that time there was a certified medicine campaign that changed people’s mindset. Then, in 1940 during the Japanese colonisation, the tradition of drinking herbal medicine became popular again due to the formation of the Indonesian herbal medicine committee. Over time, the sales of jamu increased by adjusting to technological developments.

From 1974 to 1990, many herbal medicine companies were established and grew in Indonesia. At that time, there was a lot of guidance and assistance from the government to increase the production activities of the herbal industry. But nowadays, the tradition of selling jamu has also changed. Indonesian people now rarely find the sale of jamu gendong as the unique way for Indonesian people to get the jamu. 


UNESCO’s decision to recognise jamu is not the end of the struggle, but rather a new beginning. The UN agency will continue to monitor Indonesia’s efforts in preserving herbal culture for at least the next five years. Minister Nadiem Makarim said that Indonesia will continue to preserve jamu and herbal medicine through formal and non-formal education and training, as well as through herbal medicine research, development, and innovation.

Jamu follows 12 other UNESCO-recognised Intangible Cultural Heritage, namely Wayang (2008), Keris (2008), Batik (2009), Batik Education and Training (2009), Angklung (2010), Saman Dance (2011), Noken (2012), Three Genres of Traditional Dance in Bali (2015), Art of Pinisi Shipbuilding (2017), Pencak Silat Tradition (2019), Pantun (2020), and Gamelan (2021).

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.