The Jakarta Post | Mon, 09/28/2009 8:38 AM
The government is working to establish temulawak, or Java turmeric, as an icon of Indonesia, on the grounds that the country has the most varieties of the herb.
State Minister for Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman told a press conference in Jakarta on Sunday that research is currently underway to prove that the medicinal plant, whose Latin name is Curcuma xanthorrhiza Roxb, merits to be recognized as a classic Indonesian icon.
“Our researchers in etnobotany are confident that they can prove that Indonesia has the most varieties of ‘temulawak’,” he said.
“We also have social-anthropology researchers tracing the existence of the herb in the past, by looking at paintings in caves or reliefs in temples,” he added.
The next step, he said, would be to research how to use the herb, which naturally tastes bitter, in cooking.
“We have to make ‘temulawak’ part of our daily lives, in food, cosmetics, medicine or supplements; we don’t want other countries claiming it as their own,” he added.
Temulawak is used as an ingredient in most traditional herbal medicine, known locally as jamu. It is said to have anti-inflammation, anti-microbe, cholesterol reducing, and anti-cancer properties, and is widely used to treat stiff muscles and liver disease.
Charles Saerang, chairman of the Indonesian Herbal and Traditional Medicines Entrepreneurs Association (GP Jamu), said Indonesia was the largest temulawak producer in the world, with the best varieties of the herb found in Central Java, particularly in the Semerang area.
Indonesia, however, lags behind other countries that have long patented some properties of the herb and developed temulawak products.
Charles said South Korea, a major player in the international market for herbal medicines with ginseng, had researched the use of the herb as an ingredient in daily products.
Yaya Rukayadi, an Indonesian scientist working as a research professor at Yonsei University in South Korea, said his research had been used by corporate giant LG as an ingredient for toothpaste products.
“We are also developing anti-dandruff shampoo and an anti-aging cream from ‘temulawak’,” he added.
Kusmayanto said scientists like Yaya are what the country needs if it wants to advance in developing its natural biodiversity.
He acknowledged that Indonesia’s best scientists were opting for institutions abroad because of lack of appreciation at home.
However, he said, the ministry was working to attract more researchers on medicinal plants for jamu in the coming years.
“We will increase the funding for research tenders; we have spent Rp 100 billion [US$10 million] for 2009 and will allocate Rp 300 billion for 2010,” he said.
Charles lamented the government had taken so long to see that jamu could be a superior product.
“I tried to put it before the minds of many ministers before Kusmayanto, but to no avail. Now, I finally succeeded and made one realize the potential of jamu, but it’s only days before his term ends,” he said. (adh)