Melo Melo Kava Bar Opening in Berkeley!

Melo Melo Kava Bar Opening in Berkeley!Aloha, kava connoisseurs, Kava Guru here! In a wonderful piece of news, what’s shaping up to be an awesome kava bar is set to open in Berkeley! First mentioned on September 9th in online magazine Nosh, a new “alcohol-free” bar will shortly be opening right on University Avenue in Berkeley, California. Featuring a menu that will serve tea, kombucha (fermented fruit tea), and kava kava, the new establishment will reportedly be called the Melo Melo Kava Bar after the famous (and particularly yummy) Vanuatu kava strain of the same name.

The new bar is already projected to be a “wild success”, probably due to its location in the heart of the university district, which caters to a young, thirsty student population in a city known for seeking out healthy alternatives. The finished 1200-square foot space is anticipated to have seating for 27 customers and be open from noon to midnight seven days a week.

Rumored to be co-owned by Andrew Procyk, founder of the Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville and the recently opened Noble Kava Bar in Boone (both in North Carolina), Melo Melo Kava Bar is the project of Nicolas Rivard, a seasoned restaurant entrepreneur who got his start in the kava industry managing Procyk’s Vanuatu Kava Bar. According to their promotional material, the Melo Melo Kava Bar not only won’t be serving any alcohol, but it will not serve coffee products of any kind either. Instead, their menu is based around kava drinks, tea, and kombucha. While tea does have some caffeine, it has much less than coffee and contains other polyphenols such as theanine and theophylline that are actually purported to be relaxing. Kombucha is a kind of fermented caffeine-free herbal tea, or tisane, that’s becoming popular for its purported benefits to health, especially for balancing gut flora and acting as a gastrointestinal tonic. According to Melo Melo’s proprietors, “[We want to] provide an alternative to coffee houses and alcohol bars. We aspire to nothing less than changing the way Americans work and how they spend their leisure hours in more productive and healthy ways.”

Wow, I know I’m interested! And the owners at Melo Melo clearly know their stuff about relaxation, as they’re making kava a big part of their offerings as well as their name. In their own words, “Melo Melo revolves around kava, a medicinal herb with experimentally proven capabilities of inducing relaxation and equilibrium”. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I am truly excited to place yet another flag on our national map of kava bars and be one of the first to give a hearty “Aloha” to the Melo Melo Kava Bar!

Sources:

“New Alcohol-Free Bar Set for Berkeley (Say What?)” Nosh. September 5th, 2014.  http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/09/05/bites-capones-speakeasy-open-ramen-shop-grows/comment-page-1/.

What is Kava’s Legal Status? Is Kava Legal Everywhere?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is kava’s legal status? Is kava legal everywhere?

With all of the recent legal changes surrounding kava, it’s certainly hard to keep track of where it is and is not legal and what its actual legal status is in those places. For example, there was even a change as recent as June of this year – in Germany the Federal Administrative Court overturned the 2002 ban that had been placed on kava-containing products [1].

So, I am writing the following article to help clear up some of those confusing bits surrounding kava legalities.

Is kava legal in my country?

Thankfully the list of countries where kava is formally illegal or partially illegal is much smaller than the list of where kava is fully legal. So, I will do my best now to outline where kava is not legal and in what respects.

As mentioned above, in Germany there has been a recent victory for kava with the repeal of the 2002 kava bans. However, there are still limitations on the marketing capabilities of companies selling and distributing kava and kava-containing products – so the actual legal status of selling kava in Germany is still a bit foggy. The International Kava Executive Council (IKEC) and partners of the German Pharmaceutical Industry initiated the file that led to the repeal of the kava ban [1].

While the IKEC’s involvement in serving justice with regard to kava is an ongoing positive force – the pharmaceutical companies were (interestingly enough) where the initial bans were said to have come from. Of course it’s not entirely clear what is going on here, but I have my guru suspicions. My guess is that some members of the German pharmaceutical industries are seeing the potential for a grand investment in manufacturing kava-based pharmaceuticals. It is no secret now that kava has real anxiolytic properties, and pharmaceutical companies could certainly make a killing by joining in the battle to fully legalize kava everywhere; although ever fiber of my kava being would rather keep kava the pure, earthy and unadulterated natural remedy that it is.

In some countries kava has had quite the tumultuous legal history, resulting in the creation of actual legal bodies to deal with the regulation of kava. For example, in Australia the National Code of Kava Management has been implemented to deal with the supplies of kava coming in and out of the country and circulating throughout it. It would appear as though the legalities of kava are also not uniform across Australia – with the Northern Territories perhaps exhibiting a heightened legal sensitivity to kava: the sale of kava is illegal in this part of Australia and in a majority of cases the actual possession of kava is also illegal [7]. The legal status is not any clearer in the other countries that have laws surrounding the regulation of kava.

Many other countries with laws surrounding the kava plant have regulations similar to the ones now in Germany – where kava is not actually banned, but where there are a series of regulations and restrictions placed on the sale of kava. Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Canada are all countries that have these types of legalities surrounding the sale of kava, even though kava is not actually banned in these countries [5].

The U.K also has unclear laws regarding kava. While the sale, supply, and import of kava-containing products is illegal and could result in a criminal offense – there is nonetheless a kava bar in the U.K called the Kava Pub, so kava cannot actually be fully banned [5, 7].

In terms of fully locked-up laws regarding kava – Poland is the only country that I am currently aware of. In Poland kava is completely illegal in all respects – the import, sale, possession, distribution and all other related activities involving kava are completely prohibited in Poland [5].

Aside from the South Pacific islands, states within the United States of America are probably the next place to look for the most liberally kava-loving populations. Not only is kava no longer banned in the U.S, but there are also a rising number of kava bars: places where people can go to explicitly enjoy the relaxing and wholesome properties of kava. As far as my guru knowledge is aware, the U.S is the only other area that has a steadily rising-kava loving population outside of the South Pacific.

To Summarize:

  • Kava is explicitly banned in Poland only (as far as I know)
  • There are unclear legalities surrounding the sale of kava in Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and other unclear laws and regulations in the U.K.
  • Australia does not strictly ban kava, but its regulations and other legal structures that surround kava are so obscure and problematic that the use of kava in Australia can be difficult.
  • The United States was at one time a country that banned kava, but is now a kava-loving nation!

Why is kava illegal at all?

Back in 2002 there was a popularized series of cases that declared kava had hepatotoxic properties – cases that brought kava into the eye of many legal systems across the globe. A series of studies funded and published by the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte, or “BfArM”) advertised unsubstantiated claims that kava was causing liver damage [1]. However, as many reports and case studies have indicated, there are numerous reasons why these studies have since been proven to be inconclusive. Most recently a study presented at the 2014 International Conference on the Science of Botanicals indicated that the strains used in the BfArM study may be responsible for the hepatotoxic scare [3].

But, in order to stay on topic – I will simply direct you to other places on the site where I discuss these implications and the BfArM case in more detail:

Pure kava does not cause liver damage
Tudei kava

Long story short, these German studies initiated a multinational discussion on the topic of kava and the possibility that it might cause liver damage. As a result a series of bans on kava’s sale and import from the South Pacific began to surface and controversial information about kava began circulating on a multi-national level. Kava and its friends have since had quite the battle trying to restore justice on a global front with regard to the improper legal restrictions placed on kava and its use or sale.

The Kava Act

As a result of these many legal issues and the large body of information now surfacing with regard to the Piper methysticum plant, primary export nations within the South Pacific have enacted and implemented The Kava Act. The Kava Act is intended to regulate the cultivation, sale and export of kava – ensuring that only regulated and permitted strains of noble kava are in legal circulation. The Vanuatu Parliament enacted the Kava Act back in 2002 in order to respond to the global circulation of misinformation regarding kava. The Kava Act prohibits the sale of any other kava cultivar outside of noble kava strains. The Act is part of an international effort to regulate the sale and export of kava – in order for it to be used properly as it was intended for its natural and beneficial properties [2].

International Kava Executive Council (IKEC)

There is one primary executive body that is at the forefront of the battle to serve justice when it comes to fighting for the legal status of kava on a global front – the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC). The following definition is from the IKEC’s official Internet home page:

“The IKEC is an international organization consisting of delegates from the Pacific and the EU, focusing on re-establishing the kava trade between the kava-producing South Pacific Island States and the countries of the European Union [4]”.

The IKEC is headed by Roy Mickey Joy – the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union. Currently Mr. Joy is working with the IKEC and other governing bodies to lift the few bans that remain on the sale, cultivation or export/import of kava – with a particular focus on the bans that surround kava and its use in the EU [6].

My guru instincts tell me that it will just be a matter of time before kava (pure noble kava) is legalized completely on a global scale. With people like Mr. Joy and others involved in the battle to legalize kava and all activities related to kava kava – I believe that our beloved Piper methysticum is in very good hands. There are only a few pockets of the world where there are still laws restricting the use of kava and these pockets are actively intertwined with people and government bodies who are fighting for such restrictions to be lifted.

Ahhhh, I certainly cannot wait until the day when I’m welcome to bring my kava bowl to all corners of the world and sit and share the joy of kava with all of those around me – what a beautiful day that shall be!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea Tauafiafi. “Kava Lifted: German Court Lifts Ban on Pacific Kava”. Pacific Guardians, Dec 06, 2014:
http://pacificguardians.org/2014/06/12/kava-lifted-german-court-lifts-ban-on-pacific-kava/.html.

2. Lebot, Vincent and Patricia Simeoni. “Identification of factors determining kavalactone content and chemotype in Kava (Piper methysticum)”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56: 2008, p. 4976-4981.

3. INSIDER T.V. “New Science May Boost Kava Market”. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspx.

4. International Kava Executive Council [IKEC]. “News”.  http://www.ikec.org/?q=node/10.

5. Kona Kava Farm. “Kava Banned Countries”.  http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-banned-countries.html.

6. Radio New Zealand International. “Vanuatu Wants Kava Bans Lifted”: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/249183/vanuatu-wants-kava-bans-lifted.

7. Wikipedia. “Kava”. Last updated Sept 1, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava.

Joy of Kava Coming out of Malaita

buy kavaIs it possible that the export of kava from the South Pacific is moving and growing beyond its current trade centers? It appears as though it might be! North Malaita of the Solomon Islands has sent batches of kava from two of their northern kava farms to Vanuatu for testing, and if the test comes back with the right information then Malaita can become a member of the kava export group [3].

I cannot tell you how much all of my being is jittering with excitement! If Malaita’s plan goes through this means that the kava trade is growing and farmers of kava are reaping the benefits in these regions – places that have traditionally been suffering from a lack of export interest from abroad. Malaita is a mountainous and unexploited tropical island in the South Pacific – with the largest population out of the Solomon Islands. Given the size of Malaita’s populace, export agreements like those surrounding the export of kava could prove to be incredibly beneficial to the island’s people [4].

According to Noel Roposo – the chief field officer of the marketing unit in the agricultural planning division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) – the samples were sent to the Republic of Vanuatu for a potentially valuable laboratory testing [3].

What exactly is being tested for? It’s not quite clear – there is not much information currently available, but the results of the test are to be returned to MAL in the near future – so we will probably have more information for you then! As Roposo says, “At the moment, we are awaiting response from Vanuatu, before we can see whether we can take the matter to the next level” [3].

However, I have a hunch that it has to do with ensuring compliance with “The Kava Act” – a body of law that was enacted to ensure that the safety and other regulatory conditions of kava coming out of Vanuatu are respected [2]. In 2002 the Vanuatan government enacted The Kava Act to regulate the sales and cultivation of kava – it was brought about in response to the accusations that kava ingestion was leading to hepatotoxicity [1].

It’s probably safe to assume then that the Malaita kava is being sent to Vanuatu to ensure that the strains of kava coming from the northern farms are in compliance with those legal standards. Additionally, some strains of kava – such as Tudei kava – have been implicated in the hepatotoxicity cases as a possible cause of the issue [1].   So, it would seem that the Vanuatu laboratories are going to be testing the Malaita kava to ensure its strain is pure and of an export-worthy kind.

Currently the South Pacific regions that dominate the kava export market are Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – collectively contributing over US $200 million to the South Pacific economies through their well-established kava farms [5]. Thankfully, there is a strong community mentality amongst the islands and they are helping others like Malaita gain their stake in the kava export market as well – over all, contributing to the fiscal health of the South Pacific.

It’s incredible how kava has been pretty much unheard of on the Internet in any major news or broadcast circles and then this story surfaces – a report about the ongoing growth and expansion of the kava export trade. It’s truly wonderful, and I think it was completely worth the wait!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. INSIDER T.V. “New Science May Boost Kava Market”.

2. Lebot and Patricia Simeoni. “Identification of factors determining kavalactone content and chemotype in Kava (Piper methysticum)”.

3. Soloman Star. “MAL sends Mala Kava for lab test in Vanuatu”.

4. Wikipedia. “Malaita”.

5. World Trade Organization. “The Pacific Island Nations: Toward Shared Representation

 

Are Kava Tea Bags Effective?

Dear Kava Guru,

Are kava tea bags any good?

Doug,

Salem,

MA

I know of several ways to answer this question, depending on what exactly you mean by “good”; if it comes down to asking are kava tea bags effective, or do kava tea bags work, I can say without hesitation that they certainly can be quite relaxing! Like any kava beverage, getting the most out of kava tea bags lies in how you prepare them as well as making sure you have quality raw material to start with. Kava tea bags may not be as strong as fresh-brewed kava—of course, few things are!—but many people still enjoy kava tea immensely. One advantage of going the kava tea route is that these products often blend kava extract with yummy flavorings to help ease the kava newcomer into a more welcoming taste experience. After all, drinking kava shouldn’t just be about the physical effects; sensual elements such as taste, smell, and mouth feel are important too!

The most popular kava tea I know of is Yogi Tea’s “Kava Stress Relief”, which the folks over at Kava Dot Com are now offering on their marketplace! Kava Stress Relief combines kava extract (this is crucial!) with flavoring ingredients like carob pod, Indian sarsparilla, cinnamon bark, cardamom, and ginger root. Sounds tasty, right? While the Kava Guru has not yet tried Yogi’s kava tea—I prefer my kava kava “straight” if you know what I mean—apparently many people like the way the spice ingredients mellow out the earthy, peppery taste of kava. One review described it this way: “There is just a burst of amazing flavors and spices that come out of this tea. Downing something is not healthy. If you’re consuming something for everything but taste, then you’re doing it wrong. I enjoy this tea because it goes down nice and smooth and has a pleasant aftertaste.”

I absolutely agree with this philosophy when it comes to kava—or any substance with a physiological effect, such as coffee, tea, or wine. It should be about the holistic experience of consumption, in which taste, smell, and mouth feel are as important as the eventual effects. Especially with a relatively subtle herb like kava, I believe that working patiently with it rather than slamming a glass of kava hoping for an instant effect is the best way to discover kava’s many joys.

That said—do kava tea bags work? This is really the crux of any kava supplement: if you aren’t using the whole kava root but rather a capsule, powder mix or tea, you absolutely have to make sure the supplement contains a kava extract—not just the dried and powdered root. Without some form of extraction, plain powdered root will not be physiologically active. To be effective, a kava supplement product should contain at least 70 milligrams of kavalactones, the active relaxing and anxiolytic constituents of kava. According to the information I could find, Yogi tea bags contain 78 mg of a peeled kava root extract, plus 23.4 mg of a 30% kavalactone extract. Since the kava root extract itself is not 100% kavalactone (the typical range is 60-70%), this means that the maximum kavalactone content of the tea would be 78 mg, and could be in the lower range of 70.2 mg. In other words, one tea bag would contain about the minimum effective dose of kavalactones for the average person. This can definitely be an effective dose for some, but it will probably not be strong enough for others depending on each individual body’s unique tolerance. The instructions on the box even say to use two tea bags for a stronger effect if desired.

However—a weaker brew isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t know about you, but in the Kava Guru’s opinion not every experience with kava has to be a 15-hour nakamal session with a hard-hitting Vanuatu brew. Kava tea bags might be the perfect option if you just want to relax of an evening, take the edge off after a stressful day, or get into a relaxed, focused state before work or to dive into a creative project. A gentle kava tea is also an excellent beverage option for those mornings when you anticipate a stressful day ahead: the lower dosage of kavalactones can lessen your anxiety while still leaving you alert.

If you decide to try kava tea bags, I’ve included a couple tips for you to get the most out of your kava tea experience. Yogi recommends pouring boiling water over 1-2 tea bags and steeping 5-10 minutes, but I would highly recommend using cooler water—the general opinion is that water heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius) may degrade the kavalactones and diminish their efficacy. However, Kava Dot Com’s experiments with heating kava suggest that this temperature ceiling can be stretched a bit without harming the kavalactones, as long as you don’t actually boil the kava. What you might do is heat water to just under boiling—say, to 176 Fahrenheit/80 Celsius, the same temperature used for green tea. Especially if you add a fatty liquid such as milk during the steeping process, this temperature will be enough to extract the kavalactones so that you can get the most out of your kava tea bags!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

What Are Some Non-Kavalactone Compounds in Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

What are some compounds in kava root besides kavalactones?

George,

Reno, NV

By now, you’ve probably heard me gush enough about kavalactones to know that these relaxing, anxiolytic compounds are a big part of what makes kava such a joy to consume. Yet as it turns out, there is actually quite a diverse range of chemical constituents in kava root: beside the six main kavalactones—kavain, dihydrokavain, yangonin, desmethyoxyyangonin, methysticin, and dihydromethysticin—there are many subsidiary kavalactones that occur in much smaller amounts, as well as a totally different class of compounds called chalconoids [1]. Chalconoids are probably the most interesting compounds in kava, besides kavalactones of course. Otherwise known as flavokavains or flavokawains, scientists are starting to realize that the chalconoid compounds in kava have biological actions in the body, and have started to study their effects. There’s even a possibility that the kava market could see a resurgence in demand specifically for flavokavain A, which has been demonstrated to target some types of cancerous cells [2]!

Fresh kava root is about 80% water. Once dried, kava root contains a hefty amount of starch (43%), along with 20% dietary fiber, 12% water, 3.2% sugars, and 3.6% protein [3]. Kavalactones contribute about 15% of the weight of the root. As you can tell from the name, kavalactones are a kind of lactone, a compound widely found in edible food plants, including leafy green vegetables. Without getting too deep into organic chemistry, a lactone compound is classified as an ester formed from the condensation of an alcohol group (-OH) and a carboxylic acid group (-COOH) on the same molecule [4]. The letters in the abbreviations above stand for oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. Don’t worry too much about these terms; I’ve just included them to give you an idea of what chemical class kavalactones belong to.

Some lactones, especially the sesquiterpene lactones found in lettuce and other edible plants in the daisy family Asteraceae, have recognized health benefits. Sesquiterpene lactones are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that may help protect cells from oxidant damage [5]. In other words, your mother was right when she told you to eat your vegetables—a diet rich in dark pigmented veggies is key to a healthier life!

Kavalactones are not sesquiterpene lactones; they are their own unique class of lactones found almost exclusively in kava kava (Piper methysticum) root. Kava kava’s benefits to health come from kavalactones’ sedative, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, nootropic, and anxiolytic effects on the central nervous system [6]. Although pretty much everyone knowledgeable about the kava world knows about the six major kavalactones responsible for these effects, it turns out kava kava may have as many as 14 kavalactone compounds, as well as the chalconoids I mentioned above and other trace compounds. Alexander Shulgin’s 1973 paper lays out a very detailed breakdown of the compounds in kava according to level of concentration, which I’ve reproduced below:

Compounds detectable in kava root at 1% concentration or more: kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin.

Compounds detectable in kava root at 0.1-1% concentration: yangonin, dihydromethysticin, desmethoxyyangonin, flavokavain A, pinostrobinchalcone, dihydrotectochrysin, alpinetinchalcone, alpinetin, amd dihydrooroxylin A.

Compounds detectable in kava root at 0.01 – 0.1% concentration: methoxy-nor-yangonin, flavokavain B, and methoxyyangonin [7].

The takeaway from this is that while kava contains a range of interesting compounds, most of them are not present in any amount significant enough to suggest that they have biological activity in the body…

…except the chalconoid flavokavains A, B, and C. These compounds are an interesting exception I’ve been wanting to examine in more detail. Chalconoids are intermediary compounds in the biosynthesis of flavonoids—the compounds in plants responsible for pigments [1]. I find this interesting because flavonoids have been found to have a few notable health benefits: researcher are already thinking the flavokavains in kava kava may have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties [1]. All this despite the fact that in 1973 when Shulgin wrote his paper, flavokavains were not considered biologically active compounds [7]!

However, there may be a downside to the flavokavains’ activity. In 2013, flavokavain B started causing some controversy in the kava world as evidence came to light that it might be harmful to liver cells [8]. Now, before you start to worry about your own kava use, let me make it clear that a) these results were based on lab tests of liver cells in vitro, not in human subjects; and b) flavokavain B only occurs in significant degree in so-called ignoble or tudei kava strains such as Isa and Palisi. I personally think the jury’s still out as to whether consumption of tudei kava prepared the traditional way poses a threat to health—but even if it does, it seems more like a reason to avoid tudei kava strains specifically. Kava researcher Vincent Lebot, who first brought the concerns about tudei kava to public light, has stated that noble kava strains are still unequivocally safe [1].

More encouragingly, flavokavain A may actually be beneficial to health: research by Dr Xiaolin Zhi at the University of California Irvine found that flavokavain A destroyed precancerous bladder cells in mice given the compound as a supplement to their diets [2]. Dr Zhi speculated that the flavokavain A specifically targets and destroys these cancer cells [2]. What’s even better about Zhi’s study is that the mice seemed to tolerate the flavokavain A well and did not experience any liver damage or other adverse effects [2]. Furthermore, a recent University of Minnesota study suggested flavokavain A might have similar preventive effects on lung cancers caused by tobacco smoking [9]. It’s clear we have a lot more to learn about the healing potential not only of kavalactones but of the full range of compounds in kava kava!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “Simple Test for Checking If Your Kava Is Tudei”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Accessed July 30th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/threads/simple-test-for-checking-if-your-kava-is-tudei-please-read-if-youre-new-to-kava.2451/.

2. Vasich, Tom. “Can Kava Cure Cancer?” UC Irvine News, Accessed April 9th, 2014. http://news.uci.edu/features/can-kava-cure-cancer/.

3. “Kava | Composition”. Wikipedia. Last modified July 27th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Composition.

4. “Lactone”. Wikipedia. Last modified June 11th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactone.

5. Chadwick, Martin, Harriet Trewin, Frances Gawthrop, and Carol Wagstaff. June 2013. “Sesquiterpenoid Lactones: Benefits to plants and people”. International Journal of Molecular Science 14 (6): 12780-12805.

6. “Kavalactone”. Wikipedia. Last modified June 30th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavalactone.

7. Shulgin, Alexander T. 1973. “The narcotic pepper- the chemistry and pharmacology of Piper methysticum and related species”. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Bulletin on Narcotics 2: 59-74.

8. Ping Zhou, Shimon Gross, Ji-Hua Liu, Bo-Yang Yu, Ling-Ling Feng, Jan Nolta, Vijay Sharma, David Piwnica-Worms, and Samuel X. Qiu. December 2010. “Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root, induces GSH-sensitive oxidative stress through modulation of IKK/NF-kB and MAPK signaling pathways”. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal 24 (12): 4722-4732.

9. “Preliminary study in mice suggests possible lung cancer preventative effect of South Pacific herb.” January 8th, 2014. PR Newswire. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kava-may-help-prevent-lung-cancer-in-smokers-say-university-researchers-239200161.html.

Kava for Peace!!

root-of-happiness_BIG

So, this is fun! An article was posted online today titled “Pacific Angels: Building Military Relationships in Paradise” and at first I clicked on this because I thought to myself – “oh dear! What is the military up to in the South Pacific!?” I was immediately worried that there might be some sort of chaos happening, but it turns out it’s quite the opposite!

There is a project underway in the South Pacific islands, currently based in Tonga, which is part of a series of humanitarian missions collectively called “Operation Pacific Angel”. It’s a periodic humanitarian mission that is a joint effort sponsored by the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) [3].   The nations involved have 175 military personnel from New Zealand, Australia, France, the Philippines, Indonesia, Tonga, and of course the United States of America [2], actively involved in various aspects of building and enhancing relationships with neighboring and partner nations [3]. Other aspects of these missions include creating a medical and civil assistance capability in Pacific nations, and  increasing the availability of assistance in times of need [3].

Currently 83 of the US personnel involved in Pacific Angel are fortunate to have been dispatched to Tonga – “The Friendly Island”.  The article in Stars and Stripes describes it like this:

“…a place where gentle waves lap at white-sand beaches, Polynesian princesses dance for guests and giant, tattooed warriors drink kava long into the night [2]”.

And this brings us to the point that I’ve been excited about – kava! As you can see above even this heavily North Americanized news source identifies Tonga with kava drinking and tranquil activities, as the article goes on to say: “the mission isn’t all hard work. During down time they’ve been relaxing at the beach, snorkeling and learning about the effects of kava [2]”.

Actually it seems as though the troops of Pacific Angel that are currently in Tonga are very much enjoying themselves thanks to the open hospitality of the Tongan people and their interest in sharing kava and the knowledge of kava’s benefits and rituals. One of the key features that were highlighted about the enjoyment of kava was how it freed the body of tension and allowed for physical relaxation while leaving the mind clear – allowing ample room for friendly conversation long into the nights [2].

Currently the personnel are in Tonga to help officials – and of course the greater Tongan community – prepare for typhoons and other natural disasters. However they are also providing medical assistance – already serving over 1,200 patients in two days – and aiding in the construction of schools.

For one of the commanders on duty, dropping down and helping out in Tonga while drinking and sharing kava with the locals brought a sense of home – as he mentioned he’s from Hawaii. As we all know and as he stated, kava (“awa”) is quite popular there! It seems as though many of the soldiers had the opportunity to enjoy kava, given that their down time consisted of “snorkeling and learning the effects of kava” [2].

Apparently other nations are keen on building relationships with Tonga as well. Tonga has sent its own personnel out to help in aiding nations in need and other nations – such as China – are actively engaging in programs to build relations with the Tongans [2].

While it can’t be said for certain – I can’t help but think that Tongan kava drinking might have something to do with their world popularity. Tonga is a very peaceful nation, full of joy and cultural tranquility and one of their main activities is drinking kava – which the “Medicine Hunter” has deemed the “The Peace Elixir” [1]. This title is very fitting of kava and the properties it bestows of sedative and mental clarifying quality, making it a very likely factor in the happiness and peace that Tonga exemplifies in the global eye.

While I am so grateful for the aid that Tonga is receiving, I can’t help but pray to the kava spirits and hope that this recent military involvement doesn’t unknowingly attract the wrong kind of attention to Tonga. I dream and believe that it can remain the peaceful, kava-sharing kingdom that it is now for endless centuries to come.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. The Medicine Hunter. “Kava, The Elixir of Peace”. Online: http://www.medicinehunter.com/kava

2. Stars and Stripes. “Pacific Angel, Building Military Relationships in Paradise”. Online:http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific-angel-building-military-relationships-in-paradise-1.295178

3.Wikipedia. “Operation Pacific Angel”. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pacific_Angel

What is a chemotype & what are kava chemotypes?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is a chemotype and what are kava chemotypes?

Time and time again on my guru database here at Kava.Guru, I have used the word “chemotype” with reference to the Piper methysticum plant. But, I feel terrible because I don’t think I’ve once really explained what a chemotype is or more specifically what kava chemotypes are. So, it’s now time for me to break down this more scientifically based term so that you – my lovingly dedicated audience – can have a better understanding of kava right down to its scientific makeup.

A chemotype is used to distinguish varieties of plants within the same species – meaning that the members of a species can share the same basic genome and often the same phenotype (physical appearance) and yet have significant differences in their chemical composition. Another word that you might see tossed around in reference to the chemical composition of a plant is “chemovar”, which is just a way of denoting the chemically different variety of the plant [7].   We can break the word down into its etymological bits to get an even better understanding. Chemo is quite simply a prefix that turns the word in to something relating to chemicals, so when it is added to the front of “type” to become “chemotype” it essentially just means chemical type. Likewise, with chemovar, -var is just a suffix added to words to mean “variety” – so, “chemovar” just means chemical variety [2].

You will notice the word “cultivar” used frequently here on Kava.Guru and also, as an extended example of the etymological significance of –var, I’ll just point out that culti- is a prefix referencing cultivation – so, cultivar just means the cultivated variety of a particular plant species. All varieties of the Piper methysticum plant are cultivars because Piper methysticum is itself the cultivar of Piper wichmannii – the wild sister of Piper methysticum. In fact Piper methysticum is unable to self propagate, therefore making it dependent upon cultivation by humans [5].

The fun thing about the chemical composition of a plant is that you could have two plants that are botanically identical – two kava plants for example that cannot be told apart – and yet each could have a very different chemical composition. You could have two plants that have the same leaf structure and root anatomy and yet hold entirely different properties with regard to their chemical makeup. As a result these plants might look the same but actually have completely different effects with regard to chemical interactions in the human system. So you may have one cultivar of Piper methysticum that is essentially useless in terms of its sedative effect because it has a very low kavalactone index, whereas another variety that looks botanically identical might have a very pleasurable and noticeable effect.  This is why it’s always extremely important to know the variety of kava a vendor is offering – you certainly don’t want to endanger your system, but of course you do want to have kava that instills the benefits you desire.

So how is it possible for two plants of the same species that look botanically identical to have such varied chemical compositions?

Well, there are many upon many things that affect the chemical constituents of a plant and their interactions. The major variables are soil conditions and the climate, which is why the South Pacific Islands and Hawaii are so well-suited to the cultivation of excellent kava.   But, something as seemingly benign as the direction of the wind could have an impact on the chemical composition as well – for example, by carrying in particles from neighbouring regions that might change the soil composition, which could then change the chemical make up of the plant itself.  So, weather and the time of year of course have a lot to do with it as well [4]. Think of it like wine varietals. Vineyards are known for their wines because they have mastered a particular growing situation that yields a very desirable and specific type of wine. Two grapes of the same varietal could yield almost entirely different wines – just because of something as seemingly simple as one having been grown in the mountains and the other having been grown near the sea.

So, if the chemical composition of a plant is so flexible how on earth can one know what exactly they are growing and whether or not it will be the chemotype they desire?

Fortunately, the primary factor in the chemical composition of kava is its genetics. A particular variety of a plant can be cultivated over and over again because botanical geneticists have become skilled in producing a particular genetic structure – or plant cultivar. Furthermore, it’s actually possible to determine the chemical composition with respect to kavalactone quantities using near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) [4]. Spectroscopy is a field of study that looks at the interactions between matter and radiated energy and NIRS is a technique specific to the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum [10]. Breaking it down further, NIRS is a technique that measures the molecular overtones and the vibrations that happen through different molecular combinations and their interactions that create measurable radiant energy [8, 10].  While it’s difficult to determine which chemical components are responsible for certain features or results [10], two studies have nonetheless proven that it is possible to determine the kavalactone makeup of dried kava by using NIRS technologies [4]. This sort of technique is necessary for kava regulation because certain aspects of the chemical composition of kava – specifically the kavalactone quantity – can be affected by growing conditions, such as the climate or the use of particular agricultural techniques [4].

Kavalactones are the active component within kava cultivars and are the factor used for chemotyping different kava varieties. While the early pioneers have identified and classified eighteen different kavalactones, only the six most major or active kavalactones are used to determine or classify a particular kava chemotype: kavain (K), dihydrokavain (DHK), methysticin (M), dihydromethysticin (DHM), yangonin (Y), and desmethoxyyangonin (DMY) [6].

Different kava cultivars have more desirable chemotypes than others and some cultivars are actually potentially dangerous. In Vanuatu only strains of noble kava are legally sold and imported – “The Kava Act” prohibits the sale of all other varieties of Kava. The Kava Act was enacted by the Vanuatu parliament back in 2002 after misinformed accusations about kava causing hepatotoxicity – it is an act that regulates the sales and cultivation of kava [4]. It is now known that certain cultivars were likely responsible for the inconclusive hepatotoxicity studies and furthermore that it was likely prepared in a way that goes against traditional preparation norms. For example, Tudei Kava has been implicated as a possible cultivar that had been used during these studies and this particular cultivar carries a high quantity of flavokavain B, a chemical known to compromise liver functioning [3].

Well my friends – there you have it: a very thorough exposition of “chemotype” with relation to kava kava, or more specifically, the Piper methysticum plant. As you may have picked up from reading this – kava gurus like myself would only ever recommend drinking kava made from regulated strains and cultivars of noble kava and would warn against using the ignoble (Tudei) cultivars as these are likely the source of the hepatotoxicity scares of 2002. So, now you can kick back and enjoy your noble kava, knowing that it has been named appropriately!

To make things a little bit easier for you I’ve thrown together a small list of the most common and desirable noble kava cultivars [1, 9]:

  • Borogu
  • Fu’u
  • Mahakea
  • Boronggoru
  • Melomelo or “sese”
  • Palarasui

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. “Buy Kava Online”. Kava Dot Com. Accessed July 7th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=512.

2. Douglas Harper. “Online Etymology Dictionary”: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=chemo-

3. INSIDER T.V. “New Science May Boost Kava Market”. Online: http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspxI

4. Lebot and Patricia Simeoni. “Identification of factors determining kavalactone content and chemotype in Kava (Piper methysticum)”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56: 2008, p. 4976-4981

5. Lynch, John. “Potent Roots and the Origin of Kava”. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 41 (2): December, 2002, p. 493-518

6. Teschke, Rolf. March 2011. “Special Report: Kava and the Risk of Liver Toxicity: Past, Current, and Future”. American Herbal Products Association Report 26 (3): 9-17.

7. Wikipedia. “Chemotype”. Last Modified on June 17, 2013: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotype

8. Wikipedia. “Infrared”. Last Modified on July 6, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrared

9. Wikipedia. “Kava”. Last modified on July 1, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava

10. Wikipedia. “Near-Infrared Spectroscopy”. Last Modified on May 18, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-infrared_spectroscopy

Vanuatu Ambassador Encourages EU Nations to Lift Kava Bans

Buy Kava

While my kava-loving soul has been lifted of late, with the recent removal of a kava ban in Germany – it still hurts to see that there are places still rejecting the import of kava and its use.   South Pacific islands thrive when their top exports, including kava, are loved and bought around the world. These islands don’t do very well when these exports aren’t accepted – and what’s worse is when they’re accepted and then suddenly rejected on a mass level.

This is what happened with kava out of Vanuatu. When kava was subject to a series of bans back in 2002 throughout several kava-consuming nations, the South Pacific islands were greatly and negatively affected. According to Roy Mickey Joy – the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union – Vanuatu and other kava producing nations have lost earnings of 3 Billion US dollars on an annual basis due to the decline in kava exports as a result of the bans [3]. This 3 billion-dollar figure is an estimate that was announced by the Pacific members of the ACP – the African, Caribbean, and Pacific states – at a recent Meeting of the Ministers of the ACP held in Nairobi [1].

Mr. Joy is a member of the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC) and clearly someone who believes in the benefit of kava for his nation’s economical wellness and prosperity. The following definition of the IKEC and its practice was taken from the homepage of www.ikec.org – the official home of the IKEC [1].

“The IKEC is an international organization consisting of delegates from the Pacific and the EU, focusing on re-establishing the kava trade between the kava-producing South Pacific Island States and the countries of the European Union.” [1]

They are an organization that is non-governmental and non-profit, rather solely constituted of volunteers who are adamant about progressing the kava trade out of the Pacific to Europe and worldwide. Most of their current focus has been on ban repeal [1] and it is on these grounds that Mr. Joy has made his recent declaration to members of the EU – insisting that they lift their bans on kava. Specifically, Mr. Joy has called upon Australia and New Zealand to consider the lifting of their kava export bans, in hopes that Vanuatu can resurface from the economic downfall caused by the kava bans [3].

According to Radio New Zealand International, Mr. Joy has stated that Australia and New Zealand followed in step with the EU’s ban on kava twelve years ago, back in early 2002, banning the import of kava from Vanuatu and other South Pacific kava-growing regions.   Accordingly, he went on to explain that the German ban repeal of last month had shown that “there is no legal nor scientific basis to justify it” [3].

Unfortunately today there are still countries that ban kava, if not entirely then at least in part. For example, Canada still disallows the sale of kava. However, bans restricting import from vendors outside of Canada – for personal use – are no longer standing. In many nations still, like in Canada, kava is partially banned – whether it be the banning of direct commercial sales or otherwise. Currently there are only two larger nations that have strict laws about kava regulating its use and import – that is Britain and France; their laws are much more widespread and restricting than anti-sale laws like that of Canada’s. In actuality though, it appears as though Poland is the only European country that has full anti-kava laws – ie. it is illegal to sell or cultivate kava and is also illegal to possess it at all [2].

Other countries’ laws regarding kava are so nondescript and elusive that determining the legality of any activity involving kava is incredibly difficult – just by a sheer lack of knowledge surrounding kava’s exact legal status. For example, while Australian officials state that kava isn’t actually illegal – the import of kava into Australia is incredibly difficult. However, when it comes to individual use of kava, the border regulations are a bit loose, allowing individuals to bring up to around 4 pounds of kava into the country for personal use [2].

My kava guru intuition is telling me that a loosening of bans on a global scale is going to continue as nations and individuals become more educated and understand the benefits that this Earth provides – including a better understanding of how to use the Piper methysticum plant, or kava kava, as it was intended to be used. I have faith that officials will come to learn of the many benefits and wonders of the kava plant and will become so entranced by its qualities that they will join in the battle to have kava universally accepted as the natural health contributor that it is.

Mr. Joy’s efforts are part of what is turning into a global movement toward a health-conscious world and the acceptance of kava worldwide. I’m truly so excited to see what nations are next and cannot wait to share the next bit of progress with you – my fellow kava lovers!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. International Kava Executive Council. “News”: http://www.ikec.org/?q=node/10.

2. Kona Kava Farm. “Kava Banned Countries”: http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-banned-countries.html.

3. Radio New Zealand International. “Vanuatu Wants Kava Bans Lifted”:http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/249183/vanuatu-wants-kava-bans-lifted.

 

What Is A Noble Strain of Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is a noble strain of kava?

Matthew,

Raleigh, NC

If you haven’t yet read the Kava Guru’s article, “The Emerging Controversy Around Tudei Kava”, that article provides a more in-depth exploration of the Tudei varieties’ chemistry compared to other kava strains, as well as the emerging controversy about the safety of Tudei kava. Suffice to say the Kava Guru is a little skeptical as to whether all the bad press for Tudei kava in its traditional aqueous form is justified; however, the research for that article made me realize there is another important aspect of kava I haven’t addressed yet. Many of those experienced in the world of kava may know that kava strains are separated into two broad classes, noble and ignoble strains. Only noble kava strains are considered suitable for export in Vanuatu and many other South Pacific regions.

What Makes a Noble Strain of Kava?

In the South Pacific, kava farming was a refined art long before European explorers made it to the region; farmers identified and named different types of kava based on the plants’ physical appearance and that of the brew produced by their roots. Just as importantly, people learned to distinguish different strains of kava by the physical and psychological effects they produced upon consumption. Although indigenous peoples didn’t yet know what kavalactones were, we know they had a well-honed understanding of the physiological effects of different kava strains. This helped them differentiate kava strains into “noble” and “ignoble” types based on these strains’ different ratios of kavalactones, which produced different physiological effects.

Noble Vs. Ignoble or Tudei Kava Strains

Another collective name for ignoble kava strains is Tudei kava, although the category includes some varieties that aren’t explicitly Tudei, such as wild kava, or Piper wichmannii [1]. Other ignoble strains include Isa from Vanuatu, and Palisi from Papua New Guinea. Common to all ignoble kava strains is that their use is culturally restricted to ceremonies and medicinal use in the South Pacific, and none of the ignoble strains is legal to export internationally [2]. Noble kava strains are legal to export either as whole root or processed into herbal kava supplements, and include famous cultivars such as Borogu, Fu’u, and Mahakea [1].

After thousands of years under cultivation by humans, kava has become a very diverse plant; but unlike other commercial crops like apples or tomatoes, kava’s diversity exists not so much in its physical appearance as in the chemistry of its kavalactones and other constituents. To really understand the difference between a noble and ignoble strain of kava, we must look at a little something called chemotype: a chemotype (sometimes also called a chemovar) is “a chemically distinct entity in a plant or microorganism, with differences in the composition of the secondary metabolites. Minor genetic and epigenetic changes with little to no effect on morphology or anatomy may produce large changes in the chemical phenotype. Chemotypes are often defined by the most abundant chemical produced by that individual, and the concept has been useful in work done by chemical ecologists and natural products chemists.” [3]

In the case of kava kava, different kava chemotypes are defined by the concentrations of the six major kavalactones in the kava root [2]. Kava chemists have assigned each kavalactone a number, which you can see below:

1= desmethoxyyangonin
2= dihydrokavain
3= yangonin
4= kavain
5= dihydromethysticin
6= methysticin

A kava chemotype is “typed” based on the descending concentration of these six kavalactones within its roots [2]. This means that a cultivar such as Vanuatu Melo Melo, with a chemotype of 245361, contains primarily dihydrokavain, followed in descending order of concentration by kavain, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, methysticin, and desmethoxyyangonin [2]. To be classified as a noble kava, a strain must have a chemotype that begins with either 2-4 or 4-2, meaning its roots contain primarily either kavain or dihydrokavain [2].

Legal Status of the Noble and Ignoble Kava Cultivars

As set out in the Republic of Vanuatu Kava Act of November 7th, 2002, only noble kava cultivars are legal to export from the archipelago, and those exporters also have to meet strict quality control standards for storing, harvesting and processing their kava, such as ensuring their kava raw material is free of aerial parts of the plant such as stems and leaves [2]. Ignoble kava strains and Piper wichmannii (wild kava) are banned from export, though unfortunately some less-than-scrupulous vendors still try to get around these laws to sell Tudei kava to customers.

Why make this legal distinction between kava cultivars of different chemotypes? Well, it actually has to do with the effects produced in the human body by those different ratios of kavalactones. “Noble” cultivars such as Borogu are higher in smaller kavalactone molecules, such as kavain, that metabolize faster, resulting in a shorter onset and duration of their physiological effects [4]. Because of this, kavain and other smaller kavalactones are thought to have fewer accompanying side effects; kavain in particular is considered a “happy” kavalactone with primarily mental, mood-lifting effects [5].

In contrast, the larger double-bonded kavalactones such as methysticin and dihydromethysticin, found in profusion in Tudei kava as well as wild Piper wichmannii, take longer to metabolize [4]. In fact, the name Tudei kava comes from the fact that these compounds can remain active in the body for up to two days! While many people still seek Tudei kava to take advantage of its long-lasting effects, this increased potency can often come with the pricetag of more undesirable side effects—often nausea or stomach upset, dizziness, headache, prolonged sleep, and drowsiness that can last into the next day [4]. There is also the possibility that Tudei strains may contain notable levels of flavokavain B, a non-kavalactone compound that has the kava community atwitter with studies that it may not be safe for the liver. That controversy is still evolving, and you can read “The Emerging Controversy Around Tudei Kava?” for my full take on it.

In Vanuatu and other South Pacific countries, it is understood that Tudei kavas are not everyday drinking kavas, and only noble kava strains are suitable for everyday use. That said, this doesn’t mean that ignoble kava cultivars have no use in the South Pacific. Actually, some ignoble cultivars such as Isa have specific medicinal uses for conditions such as urinary tract infections and cystitis, and are also used as analgesics [6]. Even more interesting, research has suggested that the very presence of large double-bonded kavalactones that make ignoble varieties unsuitable for casual use may be at the root of these varieties’ medicinal effects, especially analgesia [7]. So it seems even ignoble kavas have some pretty noble uses after all!

REFERENCES

1. “Buy Kava Online”. Kava Dot Com. Accessed July 7th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=512.

2. Teschke, Rolf. March 2011. “Special Report: Kava and the Risk of Liver Toxicity: Past, Current, and Future”. American Herbal Products Association Report 26 (3): 9-17.

3. “Chemotype”. Wikipedia. Last modified June 17th, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotype.

4. “Kava Definitions: Kava (Piper methysticum) and Types”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 30th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/wiki/kava-definitions/.

5. “Mahakea Kava: The Happy Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Last modfied June 1st, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/kava-news/mahakea-kava-the-happy-kava/.

6. “Kava | Strains and Origins”. Wikipedia. Last modified July 1st, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Strains_and_origins.

7. Bruggemann VF and HJ Meyer. 1963. “Studies on the analagesic efficacy of the kava constituents dihydrokavain (DHK) and dihydromethysticin (DHM)” [in German with English abstract]. Arzneimittelforschung 13: 407-409.

Free Bula Kava House Kava

Bula Kava House KavaBula Kava House is the second Kava vendor we’re featuring, as part of our Facebook Kava Promotion.  Bula Kava House has provided me with some of my favorite Kava over the past few years, and is really tied for my favorite Kava supplier.  They consistently offer several cultivars of Kava. What we offered on our Facebook Kava Promotion were their 4 current Powdered Kava Root cultivars; Borogu, Fu’u, Koniak, and Melo Melo. Continue Reading