JAKARTA: Traditional remedies are widely sought after in Indonesia as concern grows over the COVID-19 outbreak.
Javanese turmeric, red ginger, lemongrass and cinnamon - the ingredients needed to make traditional herbal drink jamu - are selling fast in wet markets, with their prices jumped up to 150 per cent last week.
Jamu peddlers also enjoy brisk business, now that people look to traditional remedies to boost their immune system against the coronavirus.
Mdm Henny Harsono, 63, a lifelong fan of jamu, said her children in their 30s have started consuming jamu since COVID-19 began spreading outside China.
“They now take a small thermos flask of homemade jamu to the office,” she told CNA when shopping at a traditional market in South Jakarta on Tuesday (Mar 10).
Mdm Parinem, a vegetable seller at the market, told CNA that customers snapped up all her herbs when Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the first two COVID-19 cases last Monday.
“They told me they need these items to fight the coronavirus,” the 64-year-old, who goes by one name, told CNA.
The high demand pushed the price of a kilogram of Javanese turmeric from 40,000 rupiah (US$2.78) to 100,000 rupiah last week.
The price of lemongrass also doubled to 60,000 rupiah, while red ginger was sold at 150,000 rupiah per kg from about 85,000 rupiah, before falling slightly to 120,000 rupiah this week.
“Despite the expensive prices, my stock of Javanese turmeric was sold out in the first two days,” Mdm Parinem said.
Having been selling vegetables at the market for 25 years, she said this has never happened before, not even during the bird flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreaks.
HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS SELLING FAST
Mdm Surini, 62, a jamu seller, is happy that her business has been doing well for over a week.
She peddles her jamu at the traditional market, offering bottles of the homemade concoction to customers.
“Usually I sell about 50 bottles per day, but now I can sell about 70 bottles,” she told CNA.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Mdm Surini sold a 330ml bottle of jamu for 10,000 rupiah. Now it is priced at 15,000 rupiah.
A 600ml bottle of jamu is offered at 20,000 rupiah, an increase from the usual 15,000 rupiah.
Meanwhile, a drugstore employee at the market told CNA that herbal supplements were also in high demand.
“Herbal medicines, especially those containing Javanese turmeric, are highly sought after,” said Mr Rizky Fajri.
“Usually ten bottles of these medicines can last for about two weeks, but now they’re gone in just one day,” he added.
Herbal drinks and traditional powdered drink mix also became popular choices, Mr Fajri said.
HERBAL REMEDIES ARE NOT ANTI-CORONAVIRUS DRUGS: HEALTH EXPERT
Jamu is most popular in Java, although it is also commonly found throughout Indonesia.
The country’s top leaders, such as former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President Joko Widodo, are known to be fans of jamu.
Last year, Mr Widodo shared his jamu drinking habit in a Youtube video, claiming that he has been drinking jamu every morning for about 18 years. It keeps him healthy and fit, he said.
Commenting on the rush to drink jamu and consume traditional supplements, Dr Erlina Burhan, the spokeswoman for the Indonesian Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force, said herbal remedies are not anti-coronavirus medications.
Herbs can only be antioxidants, she said.
On its website, the World Health Organization said while some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease.
Head of the Indonesian Herbal Medical Doctor Association Hardhi Pranata said while researches showed that some herbs are antioxidants or have anti-inflammatory properties, that does not mean they can combat COVID-19.
He advised people to distinguish herbs or jamu from medication.
Also, the effect of herbs can only be felt if they are regularly consumed for at least a couple of months, Dr Pranata said.
"The effect (of consuming jamu now) is certainly not as good as consuming the spices or herbs every day throughout a period of time," he said.