What is Kava

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What is Kava

Kava Quick Facts
Name: Kava
Scientific Name: Piper methysticum
Origin Islands of south Pacific, from Hawaii to Papua New Guinea
Taste Bitter, pungent
Health benefits Pain Relief and Muscle Spasms, Quit Smoking, Weight Loss Goals, Menopause Issues, Prevent Premature Aging, Anxiety Aid, Headache Prevention
Kava, scientifically known as piper methysticum, is a small shrub native to the islands in the South Pacific, where it has been used for thousands of years as the source of a narcotic sedative drink derived from its roots and used during celebrations and other events (traditional preparation involved chewing or pounding the roots to a pulp and mixing it with cold water). The root and stems are made into a non-alcoholic, psychoactive beverage that has been used socially and ceremonially for hundreds of years in Hawaii, Fiji, and Tonga. Kava belongs to the pepper family (Piperaceae) and is also known as kava, asava pepper, intoxicating pepper, awa, Kava-Kava, Kava Pepper, Kava Shrub, Kawa and Yangona Pepper. Genus name comes from the Latin name from the Greek word peperi, itself derived from an Indian name. Specific epithet means intoxicating.

The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative, anesthetic, euphoriant, and entheogenic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia for its sedating effects. Kava is a cash crop in Vanuatu and Fiji. The beverage is consumed to promote relaxation and ease stress without interfering with alert mental functioning. It is also taken as a sacrament prior to ceremonies or in the spirit of friendship at social get-togethers. Active ingredients in the roots are kavalactones which have sedative and anesthetic properties. Preparation involves grinding or pounding the root into a powder and adding the powder to water. Piper nigrum is the source of black and white pepper used throughout the world.

Plant Description

Kava is an evergreen, robust, dioecious, vine-like perennial shrub that grows about 1–4 m high in partial sun, shaded from the canopy of the tropical forests, and grows best in areas between 500 and 1000 feet above sea level. It is grown in loose, deep, organically rich, well-drained soils in moist, humid, tropical conditions with frequent rainfall. The plant has lateral roots about 2 m long and 8 cm diameter with glabrous, woody, branching stems. Leaves are green, alternate, glabrous, cordate, 10–30 cm by 9–24 cm, entire, apex acute, palmately veined and borne on 2–7 cm long petioles.

Flower & Fruit

Flowers are small, unisexual, whitish, occurring in short, irregular, axillary spikes or opposite leaves. The floral bracts are rounded and peltate on pubescent pedicels. The male spikes with flowers bearing two short stamens, female spikes (rare) female flower with a unilocular ovary and stigma. The fruit, a berry is seldom produced and the plant must be propagated by dividing the roots or through stem cuttings.


The species is indigenous to and cultivated in the islands of south Pacific, from Hawaii to Papua New Guinea, with the notable exception of New Caledonia, New Zealand and most of the Solomon Islands.

Health Benefits of Kava Root

Kava root is also used to treat pain and swelling of uterus, menstrual discomfort, urinary tract infections, sexual arousal and skin diseases such as speeds up healing process, leprosy, eye health issues and painkiller. Listed below are few of the health Benefits of Kava root:

1. Pain Relief and Muscle Spasms

Kava root has anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities. While these are mild in comparison to other effects, these might be the most widely needed by the general population. If you suffer from arthritis, or have recently had surgery or an injury, then having a quick kava root decoction could be just what the doctor ordered to relieve inflammation and pain. (1)

2. Headache Prevention

Though closely related to the other pain relief and inflammation benefit, kava root has also shown its efficacy against headaches and migraines, offering fast relief from those suffering from the conditions in laboratory tests. (2)

3. Anxiety Aid

Anxiolytic effects of kava root are most well-known and desired by users herbal practitioners. By managing the hormonal balance in the body and easing the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream, kava root extracts and decoctions can keep your body and mind feeling calm and gratified, not to mention removing the potential dangers of having too many stress hormones in your system! (3)

4. Prevent Premature Aging

Antioxidants are powerful organic compounds that can help our bodies stay safe by eliminating or neutralizing free radicals around our systems. Free radicals are the dangerous byproducts of cellular respiration, and can cause the mutation or apoptosis of healthy cells. This can lead to premature aging, chronic disease, and even cancer. In terms of kava root, it has often been praised for its life-giving qualities, and studies have shown that free radical activity is reduced with kava root application, as the concentration of antioxidants is so high. (4)

5. Menopause Issues

As women age, they enter a period of life called menopause, when they stop menstruating. However, this changeover can be long and uncomfortable, including hot flashes, cramping, hormonal swings, and anxiety. Kava root has been tested positively in individuals going through menopause and has shown itself to be superior to placebo and over-the-counter menopause treatments.(5)

6. Weight Loss Goals

Although this is a second-generation health benefit, kava root can help you lose weight by eliminating stress and anxiety. One of the most common triggers for overeating is stress, so by eliminating the stimuli, kava root can help people lose weight and avoid snacking between meals.(6)

7. Quit Smoking

Kava root is a popular tool to help people quit anything (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc.), as it can help curb cravings and eliminate the anxiety so often caused when all you want in the world is a cigarette. Kava root decoction can calm the nerves when you are particularly anxious to break the promise to yourself. In other words, kava root represents a major challenge to two globally dominant industries – cigarettes and anti-depressants.(7)

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Traditional Uses and benefits of Kava

  • Kava has been used in social and ceremonial life in the Pacific islands from ancient times for the soporific and narcotic effects.
  • About thirty syndromes were treated with kava-based preparations in Polynesia.
  • The traditional medicinal uses of kava include treatment of gonorrhea, syphilis, and cystitis; induction of muscle relation and sleep and treatment of boils, asthma, headache and urinary infections.
  • To treat injury caused by fish spines, dry kava root is burnt and the injury exposed to the smoke generated.
  • A maceration of young kava shoot is taken orally for inflammation of the genitourinary system in Tubuai.
  • Kava is taken as a drink for gonorrhea and chronic cystitis in Pacific Islands.
  • Kava is used as an anesthetic and stimulant for lactation in Papau New Guinea.
  • Bark of scraped and masticated root is used to relive sore throats.
  • Juice from leaves is used to treat cuts and drunk as tonic.
  • In certain tribes of Papua New Guinea, women drink fresh masticated kava as an anaesthetic, when they are being tattooed.
  • They also drink large quantities when they are pregnant, especially just before delivery, to stimulate milk production.
  • Internal skin of the kava plant is used for toothache in irian Jaya.
  • Masticated root is considered a remedy for gonorrhea in Tahiti.
  • In American Samoa, kava roots together with fruit of polo fe’u, leaves of fisoa and inner bark of moli’aina are taken internally for gonorrhea.
  • Kava leaves are taken internally for mumu tuala uli (swollen head, sore eyes, cold sweat, dizziness, numbness of legs).
  • Inner bark with juice of fasa is taken internally for tulita fasia, Harrington and Scotese.
  • Awa root is used to treat difficulties in urination and irritation of the genito-urinary system in Hawaii.
  • Masticated awa and drinking awa are used for feminine puberty syndromes and weakness, painful migraine, headache, maceration of awa for vaginal prolapus.
  • Maceration of masticated awa diluted, boiled and taken orally for general weakness.
  • Awa-based medication is used for menstrual problems and dysmenorrhea, and masticated awa is drunk to prevent risk of infection.
  • Maceration of masticated awa is diluted, boiled and taken orally for chills and sleeping problems.
  • Masticated awa or as a drink is used for headaches.
  • Maceration of rhizome is taken orally for rheumatism and against fat intake.
  • Awa preparation is used for the irritation of respiratory tract.
  • Maceration of rhizome is taken orally for gastro-intestinal upsets.
  • Masticated awa is drunk for pulmonary pains.
  • Awa is used for certain skin disease and masticated rhizome as poultice against suppuration.
  • Awa drink is administered to children to calm their nervousness.
  • Juice from rhizome is used in medication for tuberculosis.
  • Medication containing masticated rhizome used externally for leprosy and masticated rhizome is used in poultice for skin disease.
  • Awa leaves are placed in-situ to provoke abortion.
  • Fumigation with leaves is used for chill and general disease treatment.
  • Awa is taken as a therapy for soothing the nerves, relaxing fatigue-stiff muscles, general debility and inducing sleep and a treatment for excessive fat for restoring the body to normal fitness in Hawaii.
  • Awa treatment was also said to overcome scaly and ulcerous skin.
  • Mouritz stated that an alcoholic awa solution injected into the skin causes anesthesia, followed by paralysis of the peripheral nerves for several hours.
  • Hawaiian and haole (foreign) doctors use it for venereal and kidney diseases, and, in alcoholic solution or as an unguent, in affections of the skin, including leprosy.
  • Bits of awa root chewed at frequent intervals and awa leaves wrapped around the head were said to protect against contagious disease and to cure headache.
  • Awa leaves, stuffed into the vagina, were said to induce miscarriage.
  • Awa was extensively used in Germany prior to the World War, in the manufacture of certain drugs and medicines.
  • In Fiji, yaqona is considered a powerful diaphoretic.
  • It is also consumed by women as a fortifying drink, laxative and diuretic.
  • In pregnancy, small amount taken is said to facilitate delivery.
  • During breast feeding, awa is taken to stimulate milk production.
  • Kava is used medicinally also for kidney and bladder troubles and as a strong sudorific.
  • Kava leaves are softened in fire and applied as poultice against suppurations in Fiji.
  • Fijian kava is used in traditional medicine against urinary tract infections and asthma.
  • Japanese newspaper in early 1985 reported virtues of Fijian yaqona as a remedy against colds and coughing.
  • Ingestion of kava is also reported to aid in first stage of diarrhea.
  • Kava roots are used in drink to cure constipation and used for conjunctivitis in Motalava, Vanuatu.
  • Eyes are washed with juice squeezed from kava leaves.

Ayurvedic Health benefits of Kava

  • Anxiety: Prepare root decoction. Drink once a day. OR Have root extract once a day.
  • Backache: Drink a cup of Kava root tea in the evening.
  • Insomnia: Take dried kava roots. Powder it. Put half tsp in one cup water and mix. Drink twice a day. OR Prepare tincture. Take one tsp twice a day.
  • Alzheimer: Prepare a root decoction of Kava. Have one cup twice a day.
  • Neuralgia: Drink 3 cups of Kava tea once a day to soothe your inflamed nerves by reducing pain.
  • Aerophobia: Steep 2 tbsp of dried Kava root in one cup of very hot water for 15 minutes. Strain it and drink once a day.
  • Agoraphobia: Steep 1 tsp of dried Kava root in one cup of very hot water for 15 minutes. Strain it and drink it twice a day.
  • Hypochondria: Prepare a decoction made of dried Kava roots and pone cup of hot water. Drink it thrice daily.
  • Personality Disorder: Put half tsp of powdered Kava root in one cup of water. Boil it. Simmer for 10 minutes, Drink it twice a day.
  • Aphrodisiac: Prepare a decoction made from Kava roots and one cup of water, Strain and drink it.

Culinary Uses

  • Root and rhizome (underground stem) of kava are used to prepare beverages, extracts, capsules, tablets, and topical solutions.
  • Its thick roots and stumps (stem bases) are shaved, mashed or grounded into powder and made into a cold beverage used similarly to alcohol and has a sedative effect.
  • Kava is widely and commonly consumed as a social beverage to establish kinship in the Pacific island communities.
  • Roots or shavings can also be chewed.
  • Chewing produces the strongest effect because it produces the finest particles.
  • Beverage can be made from the fresh or dried Kava root, using cold water, milk or milk substitute.

How to Consume Kava

Kava is primarily a medicinal herb, not a culinary ingredient. Typically, medicinal preparations of kava are made using the root, which is the part of the plant with the strongest health benefits.

Natural Forms

  • Raw: In many cultures in the region of Melanesia, to which kava is native, traditional use involves chewing on the raw roots to experience the mood-altering effects of kava.
  • Tea: Traditionally, kava root is ground up and added to cold water, but it can be consumed hot like most Western teas as well. Kava tea is very effective at calming anxiety and inducing sleep.
  • Powder: The powder made from kava root can be taken alone, but many people claim it is a more potent relaxant when mixed with hot water.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Tincture: A few drops of kava tincture may be used for its relaxing properties.
  • Extract: Similarly, drops of extract can be added to other food and drink and be useful for treating anxiety or insomnia.
  • Capsules: Kava capsules are an easy way to benefit from the herb’s antianxiety properties.

Other Facts

  • Kava generally produces only sterile seeds, so it is most successfully propagated by root cuttings.
  • Use of kava over the centuries is in the form of a traditional ethnic beverage forming an integral part of social gatherings and ceremonies to increase kinship and amiability, especially in the Polynesian and Melanesian societies, and is widely consumed on a daily basis.
  • Kava had been reported to have antifungal and herbicidal property.
  • In Pacific island communities Kava is consumed before the beginning of any important religious ritual or ceremony.
  • Pests that may infest the kava plant include borers, aphids, mealy bugs, and armyworms.


  • Excess kava intake may cause Nausea, dizziness, headache, numbness, restlessness, renal problems and stomach upset.
  • People having liver or kidney problems should avoid kava.
  • It can have an adverse effect over the liver if taken for a longer time.
  • Prolonged use may temporarily cause yellow coloring of the skin, hair and nails.
  • Children under 18 should not consume Kava.
  • Avoid during Pregnancy, breast feeding.
  • Avoid intake 24 hrs. before a surgery.
  • Consult your doctor or physician if you are having allopathic medication for Anxiety, depression and Anesthesia.
  • People with Parkinson’s disease should avoid kava.
  • Kava should not be taken after drinking alcohol.
  • Those who are taking sleeping pills should avoid Kava.
  • Kava is not for people with depression.
  • Kava shouldn’t be used for more than three months at a time unless you talk to your doctor.
  • It’s important that you don’t drive or operate machinery when using kava because it can slow your reaction time.
  • Kava can rarely cause allergic reactions.
  • Kava ingestion should also be avoided in patients with epilepsy.
  • Patients suffering from any liver or kidney disease should avoid taking kava.












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