‘Tolak angin’
By Michael L. Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 9, 2019 at 4:06 am

I can’t remember where I got the Lola Remedios samples, which sat in the kitchen, unused, until my housekeeper found it. The samples were small sachets with liquid inside, the latest in the growing market of supplements.

My housekeeper asked about the samples, and that was when I looked closely at the packaging and realized it was actually a “jamu” preparation, produced by Kino, a company in Jakarta, which now has a branch in the Philippines.

Jamu are mixtures of medicinal plants mixed with honey and sugar, and are a major industry in Indonesia, ranging from small household-based production to large factories. Many years ago, in the 1980s, I was sent to Indonesia by a medical trade journal to do an article about jamu, which included getting to visit one of the largest companies, Air Mancur. I had good memories of that jamu expedition and still visit jamu shops whenever I’m in Indonesia, or occasionally buy one of the homemade preparations from one of the many “Mbok jamu” or “Ms. Jamu,” women vendors.

I looked at Lola Remedios’ list of ingredients, which used the plants’ scientific names that I recognized right away: ginger, fennel, two types of mint, clove and one plant name I didn’t recognize, Helicteres isora. The plants mostly contain essential oils, which give the final product a strong smell and a semisweet, semibitter taste.

After I explained jamu to my housekeeper, she said she had taken something that had similar packaging to Lola Remedios, a product called “Tolak Angin.”

Lo and behold, during the weekend, I was at the Chinatown museum shop in Binondo and was surprised to find both Lola Remedios and Tolak Angin for sale. I thought it was timely because I was having gas pains, aggravated by a cold, so I bought a box of each product, each box with 12 sachets. I took a sachet of Tolak Angin and did find some relief.

When I got home, I studied the Tolak Angin box more carefully. It’s produced by Sido Muncul, one of the largest jamu firms in Indonesia. Its ingredients are: rice, fennel, Indian screw tree (the other name for Helicteres isora), clove, mint, ginger, cardamom (the “magic ingredient” in Vietnamese pho or noodle preparations), nutmeg, cinnamon, “gotu kola” (“takip kohol” in Filipino), tree bean (our “kupang”) and Usnea (lichens, which grow on the bark of trees).

I prepared another Tolak Angin sachet, this time with hot water. It was an experience totally different from drinking out of the sachet, the hot water releasing the essential oils to produce something you could drink… and inhale! Do be careful if you prepare it with hot water: the vapors are great, but they are strong, and can mildly sting the eyes. (Both Tolak Angin and Lola Remedios have warnings against using the preparations with children and pregnant and lactating women. I’ll add that, as with other essential oils, you shouldn’t use these for your pets.)

When Monday came along, I showed my housekeeper the two boxes and thought I might as well explain what the brand name meant, cracking a joke about the brand name being half-Visayan (“tolak”) and half-Kapampangan (“angin”). In Filipino, it would be “Tulak Hangin,” push out the wind, which is the remedy for a bunch of illnesses attributed by Indonesians (and Malaysians) to “masuk angin” — yes, “pasok hangin,” or the wind entering the body. That can include gas pains, colds, various body pains.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these two products take off, considering they’re also sold now in drugstores. Maybe more jamu products will follow. Traditional medicine in the Philippines and Indonesia have many similarities, but we never developed jamu and instead skipped to Western-style supplements.

Lola Remedios will make an interesting study on marketing, using a Filipino brand name for an Indonesian product and, on the box, this very Filipino come-on: “Hagod-ginhawa: pag napasukan ng lamig.” Instead of taking off from “hangin” or wind, Lola Remedios promises relief if cold, “lamig,” enters your body. When you open the box, the inside flap adds: “Mabigat na pakiramdam ngunit wala naming sakit? Baka LAMIG yan!” (Do you feel heavy but have no illness? Maybe it’s lamig!”

I like jamu because they’re not quite “medicinal,” but something you take leisurely, like tea or coffee.

They also have an interesting line of products for sex that includes “tongkat ali”-type preparations (literally Ali’s Stick) for men, and a range of products for women, mostly astringent-type products with names like “Sari Rapat” (Essence of Tightening).

I’ll stick to the tolak stuff.

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