Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Bandung
Babah Kuya shop on the corner behind the Pasar Baru building in Bandung is small but very popular among those in search of alternative remedies in the West Java capital.
Open daily at six, the shop seems to have no holiday. No doctor practices there and it isn't even a drug store.
Siti Aminah, a resident of Balonggede in Regol, has been a customer since she married in 1967. Her husband, 61-year-old Arif Suwanda, said he went there to purchase herbs every time she was to deliver a baby.
"We're just civil servants whose salaries were not enough to support our nine children.
"Like it or not, we have to find cheaper medicine which has no bad side effects to treat illness," the 57-year-old told The Jakarta Post while at the shops buying turmeric and other herbs to treat constipation.
She said their confidence in the shop increased after Arif was cured from a liver disease in 1995.
"If we sought treatment from a doctor or hospital for the liver disease, the costs would have been enormous," Siti said.
Helping those with meager incomes is what motivates 74-year-old Iwan Setiadi and 53-year-old Memey Maria Heryati, the couple who run the shop, to keep stay in the business of selling herbs.
Four generations back on Iwan's side, in the 1800s, Tan Siu How started the shop.
Iwan said, "More buyers come. We never raise prices too high since we want to help those with low incomes who can't afford to go to the doctor." His real name is Sie Tjoe Hing, but he speaks Dutch and English better than Mandarin.
The shop, housed in a Dutch-era building, sells around 2,000 different dried plants and herbs from across the country in the form of leaves, roots, fruits and woods. Some have been ground into powder.
Iwan said the business now has a much larger inventory than it did when he inherited it 21 years ago.
He said the store sells 11 types of roots -- from basic perfume ingredients to papaya root, as well as various leaves used to treat ailments from obesity to diabetes.
Herbs range from Rp 3,000 per kilogram to Rp 200,000 per kg for the most expensive -- binahong tree leaves usually used to treat heart disease or help heal recent sutures.
Customers have only to describe their illness and the four shop attendants, as well as Iwan and Memey, are happy to provide information on what herbs to use, how often and how to prepare them.
"Sometimes, there are those who are reluctant to drink the herbal concoctions since they taste very bitter. But we deal with the problem by adding stevia leaves which are very sweet," Memey said.
She said that in the past headaches and colds were the common complaints but that high cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease were more common now.
Current research and new findings on herbal medicine have caused Iwan -- who learned his trade from his grandfather and has increased his knowledge by reading literature and attending seminars -- to become very cautious in deciding what herbs to sell.
"If the herb could be abused, like kecubung -- a plant with a large trumpet-shaped flower, which can intoxicate people, we don't sell it, although it can cure," said Iwan, who dreams of setting up a factory to produce chemical-free herbal medicine.
In an effort to protect customers, the couple also takes new plants and herbs they plan to sell in the shop to Bandung Institute of Technology's pharmaceutical lab or to drug producer Kimia Farma to be examined.
They also carefully select their supply of herbs. Plants and herbs for medicinal purpose should be dried in the sun -- not in dyers -- and shouldn't be heated, they said. Also, they should be stored in wooden, metal or glass containers.
"We take herbs and plants only from suppliers who have been in the business for generations, so they know what they are selling," said Iwan.