‘Temulawak’ another
wonder healer

Fresh take: A modern look for temulawak, incorporated into a turmeric drink.
Fresh take: A modern look for temulawak, incorporated into a turmeric drink.

In recent years, the world has fallen in love with the exotic turmeric for its amazing healing abilities. Not many, however, realize there’s another natural wonder with more to offer – turmeric’s twin, temulawak.

Native to Indonesia, temulawak — or Java turmeric — is hard to come by anywhere else. Therefore it’s no surprise that this member of the ginger family is still far from attaining worldwide recognition like turmeric.

Turmeric itself has been the prima donna of the medical world for the past few years, thanks to its active ingredient curcumin, a wonder chemical believed to help treat many ailments, including hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis and even several types of cancer, such as colon cancer.

Long before its modern appeal, traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine made use of the curcumin from turmeric as a digestive aid and as a remedy for rheumatism, swelling, runny nose and coughs.

“The world has been talking about the wonder of curcumin all this time, but they only refer to it as turmeric, not temulawak,” says Gunawan T., managing director of Helmigs Prima Sejahtera, a pharmaceutical and curcumin products manufacturer.

“That’s why there’s a need to spread the word about temulawak and promote the name Java turmeric to show it’s from Indonesia.”

So what makes temulawak a better choice than turmeric?

“Based on several scientific studies, temulawak has a higher percentage of curcumin, around 68 percent compare to 47 percent in turmeric,” says Gunawan, whose company has already conducted its own studies in China and Korea.

In addition, he goes on, unlike turmeric, temulawak doesn’t contain bis-desmethoxycurcumin, the curcuminoid responsible for impeding the bile flow, resulting in a
smaller release of cholesterol out of the body.

A work in progress: Workers pack a range of products, from curcumin sugar-free effervescent  to curcumin health drinks, at Helmigs Prima Sejahtera, a pharmaceutical and curcumin products manufacturer in Surabaya, East Java.

A work in progress: Workers pack a range of products, from curcumin sugar-free effervescent to curcumin health drinks, at Helmigs Prima Sejahtera, a pharmaceutical and curcumin products manufacturer in Surabaya, East Java.

“So temulawak truly promotes the bile flow, releasing the excess bad cholesterol out of the body through body waste,” Gunawan says, adding, “this can later help reduce the cholesterol level in our blood.”

Mangestuti, an expert on traditional herbal plants from Surabaya’s Airlangga University, confirms temulawak has the power to accelerate bile flow, making it a natural liver cleanser that can help rejuvenate liver cells.

The liver’s primary function is to process and remove toxins from the bloodstream, for which it uses bile. Thus an increased flow of bile is beneficial for liver detoxification. And because of this, temulawak is a good option for people suffering from liver problems such as hepatitis, according to a clinical study on chronic liver diseases conducted by gastroenterologist and hepatologist Pangestu Adi.

Mangestuti says that in traditional healing practices, particularly in Java, temulawak has long been used to treat diarrhea, gastric problems and anemia.

The herbaceous plant also works wonders as an analgesic and diuretic. The aetheric oil contained in temulawak, meanwhile, works to boost the appetite; hence many parents include temulawak drinks in their children’s diet.

“Temulawak has also been used to cure problems related to the digestive system — gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and liver — as well as high blood pressure and tuberculosis,” says Mangestuti, a lecturer at Airlangga’s pharmacognosy and phytochemistry department.

She says the root and rhizome (underground stems) of temulawak have the medical properties. The stems range from dark yellow to reddish brown, while the flesh is either bright orange or reddish orange.

Mangestuti says the yellow-tinged curcumin in temulawak is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent that promotes wound healing and tissue repair. This, she goes on, makes curcumin a preventive agent against cancerous tumors.

Gunawan says many studies have confirmed that curcumin has the highest amount of antioxidants compared to grape seeds, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene. Antioxidants help the body fight against damaging free radicals that destroy cells and degenerate the body’s organs.

The onset of diseases such as heart disease and cancer, as well as other problems like weakened immune system and premature ageing, stem from these free radicals. In this case, Gunawan says, curcumin works both to cure and prevent diseases by regenerating cells.

“With today’s busy life, the body’s cells are easily destroyed by pollution and consuming chemical-based drugs and alcohols,” Gunawan says, citing the example of people gulping down antibiotics when they get sick.

“What you might not realize is that antibiotics kill both the bad and good bacteria in your body – and this actually affects the condition of the body’s cells.”

The curcumin contained in temulawak, he says, “thus improves the condition of our body by regenerating the cells”.

So given all these health benefits, how can we consume temulawak?

The traditional way comprises of first peeling off the skin of the temulawak tubers before slicing them into small pieces. After that, the chunks are sun dried and then infused with boiling water and served as jamu (herbal drink).

However, says Gunawan, this traditional method has a downside: temulawak doesn’t actually dissolve in the water. A better way to get the best out of temulawak, then, is to extract the curcumin and pack it in concentrates.

And of course, technology plays a part in this case, with manufacturers stepping in.

“As customers, you must be smart in picking from the temulawak products on the market,” Gunawan says.

“You have to make sure you buy the extracts, not the temulawak powder that contains all the starch and other unnecessary properties. Just don’t get fooled.”

He adds that while everyone can enjoy a temulawak drink, it is not recommended for pregnant women
as it may contribute to a uterine contraction.

“It’s also not recommended for women who just delivered a baby or for people in postsurgery recovery,” he says, because temulawak dilutes blood.

— Photos by I.D. Nugroho

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