Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Kulonprogo, Yogyakarta
Lamuri had a heart complaint and hypertension for some time. The woman from Kampung Bahari, North Jakarta, did not see any improvements, even after consulting specialists several times.
"I started drinking Mahkota Dewa Tea and then I regained my health," she said.
Muhidin Hasan told a different story. The father of three from Plumbon in Kulonprogo regency's Temon district, almost lost his sense of self-worth before his wife: He suffered from erectile dysfunction.
"After regularly drinking Mahkota Dewa Tea, we could resume intimacy in less than a month," he claimed.
These are only two of the numerous people enjoying the benefits of Mahkota Dewa Tea. This herbal concoction is composed of 70 percent Mahkota Dewa, also known as the Crown of God (Phaleria Papuana) fruit, 20 percent green tea (Camelia sinensis) and 10 percent tea parasites (Scurrula cetropurpurea).
The tea is also believed to cure various other diseases and ailments, including cancers and tumors, to reduce the uric acid content in the bloodstream and to burn cholesterol, because it contains the key organic compounds needed by the human body.
The tea blend has been produced as an herbal drug since 2003 by PT Salama Nusantara, which employs 150 farmers in Samigaluh, Kulonprogo. It is licensed by the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and the Ministry of Health, and is certified by the Indonesian Ulema Council.
PT Salama Nusantara director Maryono said that research carried out by Sumastuti of Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University (UGM) had found the Mahkota Dewa fruit to contain antihistamines, flavonoids, saponin, polyohenol and other substances with analgesic, anti-bacterial and blood sugar-lowering effects.
Separately, a green tea study by Johannes Guitenburg of Germany's Mainz University indicated that the presence of active antioxidants and anti-carcinogen components in the leaves was effective for the prevention of cellular and DNA damage caused by free radicals, which are connected to cancers and heart problems.
"Tea parasites are useful for cancer prevention," added Maryono.
To maintain a product quality devoid of chemicals, the company's farmers use organic fertilizers in growing the herbs. UGM personnel, acting as advisers and supervisors, conduct regular field checks to make sure that the plants are completely free of inorganic elements.
The herbal mixture is also made according to a strict process: desiccated Mahkota Dewa fruit is blended with green tea and tea parasites at a ratio of 7:3:1; green tea is freeze-dried to maintain its medicinal properties.
"The entire blending process is overseen by pharmacists for quality control," Maryono told The Jakarta Post during a visit to his secondary production site on Jl. Tentara Pelajar in Sebokarang, Wates regency.
The blend is then packaged in ordinary 100-gram plastic pouches, each priced at Rp 20,000, and in the more fashionable 130-gram cardboard boxes, each priced Rp 35,000.
"Though the packaging and content weight are different, they have the same efficacy," Maryono assured.
Export & employment
Two thousand packs of Mahkota Dewa Tea are now manufactured daily. Their marketing is handled by agents in Jakarta and Surabaya, and in major cities across Bali.
"We expect to have more marketing agents in other cities. But we still impose strict requirements to guarantee product quality," stressed Maryono.
Since this year, Mahkota Dewa Tea has been sought by overseas consumers, and Malaysia and Suriname have each ordered 50,000 packages.
"We deliver 2,000 packages to Malaysia weekly. As there are no direct flights to Suriname, we make monthly deliveries to that country," revealed Maryono.
Aside from maintaining strict quality control, job creation is another priority of PT Salama Nusantara in its herbal drug manufacturing business.
In packaging, for instance, the company uses no machines.
"For packaging work, we employ 24 people, while only three are needed with machines. We want to provide jobs," said Maryono.
In addition, farmers are trained to mince and half-dry the Mahkota Dewa fruit, and supply the fruit in this half-processed form.
"In this way, they can enjoy greater financial benefits," said Maryono. "The fruit only costs Rp 1,000 per kilogram. We pay them Rp 10,000 for 1 kg of half-processed fruit, which requires 7 kg of raw material to make."
Maryono said that quite a number of consumers had requested the herbal medicine be produced in syrup form for easy consumption, but the constraint was the liquid tea's shelf life.
"We are studying whether a liquid blend is as effective as our dried product. Otherwise, we won't produce syrup because we use no preservatives," he said.
Maryono started his herbal medicine business because of a personal concern over the presence of various over-the-counter drugs and supplements containing substances hazardous to the health. Many medicinal products and supplements have now been found to contain harmful -- and illegal -- chemicals, preservatives, and additives.
"Consumers should be careful, as some so-called herbal drugs have a high chemical content," Maryono cautioned.
In cooperation with UGM and local farmers, Maryono set up the company in 2003, with hopes that Indonesia would regain its potential in the health market through indigenous herbal medicine production.
Indonesia was known previously for an indigenous herb called Jawa Dwipa but, said Maryono, "it was abandoned although it had already been proven to have positive health benefits".
While wondering why Indonesians relied so much on foreign health products, Maryono noted that several types of drugs and supplements from Malaysia or Singapore, sold at high prices here, were manufactured with raw materials from Indonesia.
The main challenge to Indonesia's herbal medicine industry is the existence of "herbal" drugs loaded with chemicals.
"So we are producing drugs without preservatives or additives to restore the public trust and to prompt consumers to be more selective in buying health products," said Maryono.