Yet Another Kava Endorsement!

Rugby Teams and KavaThe conversation about Kava as an alternative to alcohol has been an ongoing one with stable positive feedback. As far as I know there isn’t really any prominent source declaring that alcohol is better than Kava – and everyone knows how terrible drinking alcohol can be on your system! Well, today as I was sipping my Kava I came across a lovely bit of news: Eric Smith – an independent life insurance agent and founder of yourlifesolution.com – has publically endorsed Kava as a safe and worthy alternative to alcohol consumption [4].

As many people know alcohol can damage your liver over time or even in just one heavy drinking session. The liver filters alcohol and breaks it down and if you overpower its ability to do this then – like with anything that is overpowered – it will break down and function incorrectly. But, what many people don’t know is that excessive alcohol consumption can actually lead to a bleeding from the esophagus – the tube that trails from your throat to your belly. Evidently this can make eating pretty painful and daily life tasks a little more than uncomfortable. Swelling and damage of the pancreas can also occur as well as the development of cancer in various parts of the body that alcohol is in contact with [2].

One thing that is a little bit obscure with relation to the negative side effects of drinking alcohol is how it leads to poor nutrition. As many sources indicate drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time leads to poor nutrition and just generally poor health, but what often is overlooked is just exactly how that happens. Well, I’ll help you out by clearing up that obscurity! Basically, alcohol inhibits the enzymes in your pancreas that are secreted to aid with digestion and it also inhibits the liver from proper nutrient absorption. So, even if you’re eating all the right foods – but drinking alcohol excessively – you may still encounter nutritional deficiencies [3].

According to the Street Insiders article on Eric Smith and his endorsement of Kava, The Lancet – a medical journal – states that “…alcohol is in the top ten most dangerous common drugs in existence”. Smith believes that Kava can help many people tame their alcohol consumption and even provide an alternative altogether [4].

What a lot of people also don’t realize is that the consumption of alcohol can greatly affect life insurance rates – due to the health problems and complications it can cause. Although alcohol consumption is fairly subjective, insurance companies actually have ways of determining whether or not the consumption is excessive; some things they might look at to make this determination is, medical examination results, driving records or simply asking you some questions [1].

So, insurance companies can actually increase your insurance rates based on your alcohol-drinking habits and this makes it all the more impressive that Smith endorses Kava so greatly! He’s not out there just to brand insurance companies and promote various insurance products – rather, he is also concerned with helping clients promote their own healthy living. The Street Insider also quotes The Lancet medical journal, with regard to alcohol, as suggesting that people should “…look to less harmful sedatives to unwind”. I’m just so happy that people like Eric Smith are starting to realize that Kava is the perfect alternative to make use of in taking The Lancet medical journal’s advice!

Sources:

1. Inweb.  http://www.insweb.com/life-insurance/alcohol-affects-life-insurance.html.

2. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000494.htm.

3. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm.

4. Street Insider. http://www.streetinsider.com

Emerging Controversy Around Tudei Kava

PrintAh, Tudei kava. Perhaps no varietal of kava is getting more attention or press at the moment. Unfortunately a lot of it is currently bad press, as some distinguished kava researchers such as Vincent Lebot have come forward with recommendations against drinking kava made from Tudei varieties. I was frankly shocked at how quickly Tudei kava rose in notoriety as being somehow harmful, even though the science on why it might be so is still in its initial stages. I don’t think I was alone, either: many growers, retailers and connoisseurs in the kava community were blindsided by the emerging controversy surrounding Tudei kava strains. Over the past year I’ve seen two rough camps develop, divided between those who have sworn off Tudei kava and those who are still skeptical of the supposed evidence against Tudei kava. But before I can get into the controversy, I should probably break down a few things for our readers. Like what is Tudei kava?

What is Tudei Kava?

First of all, the term Tudei or Tuday kava doesn’t refer to just one strain, but actually a group of kava strains that are classified as “ignoble” according to Vanuatu’s kava export laws [1]. Tudei kava strains tend to have dark green stems and leaves, often with lighter green spots on the leaves. They also usually grow and mature quickly compared to other kava strains. Some people prize Tudei kava varieties for their perceived long-lasting effects—the effects can reportedly last as long as two days, hence the name—which are probably due to higher levels of large, slow-to-metabolize kavalactones such as dihydromethysticin in the kava root [2]. However, the longer-lasting effects can sometimes also be accompanied by undesirable side effects such as nausea and drowsiness [1], so the kava community is really split on whether the enjoyable parts of the Tudei experience outweigh the less pleasant aspects!

In Vanuatu, Tudei kava cultivars such as Isa and Palisi are actually banned from export by law (although one can still find them, or kava vendors claiming to sell them, online). This is because only “noble” kava cultivars with a specific chemotype are legal to export or process into kava supplement products. The explanation indigenous ni-Vanuatu people give for this is that Tudei or ignoble strains like Isa are reserved for ritual and medicinal use, and are considered too potent to be everyday drinking kavas [1]. There has even been a persistent rumor in some kava circles that Tudei kava is actually Piper wichmannii, the wild form of kava, and some vendors have exploited this hearsay to add an air of potency and exoticism to the the kava they sell. However, no genetic or morphological evidence has ever substantiated the claim that Tudei kava is P. wichmannii [2]. The Tudei strains may be chemically close to P. wichmannii in their ratios of kavalactones though, which could be where this claim originated.

The Emerging Tudei Kava Controversy:

I first became aware of the doubts surrounding Tudei kava from a post made on Kava Lounge by Andrew Procyk, owner of Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville, North Carolina and the recently opened Noble Kava Bar in Boone, North Carolina. He linked to a video featuring semi-famous kava luminary Vincent Lebot, in which Lebot recommends against drinking Tudei kava strains such as Isa and Palisi on the basis that they contain significant amounts of flavokavain B. His recommendation was based on data that suggest flavokavain B can be cytotoxic to human liver cells in lab tests [3].

Sigh. I thought the kava liver safety scares were over after the World Health Organization determined kava to be safe back in 2007 [4], but apparently not. The good news, though, is that Lebot and other kava researchers agree there is no detectable flavokavain B in the roots of noble kava cultivars [3]—those traditionally consumed nightly in the South Pacific as part of kastom—so even if flavokavain B turns out to be something to avoid, you don’t have to swear off noble kavas bought from scrupulous vendors. So, what’s the big deal with flavokavain B?

Flavokavains A, B, and C (also spelled flavokavins or flavokawains) are not kavalactones but are actually chalconoid compounds; precursors to the flavonoids found in many pigmented food plants like dark berries and dark orange or green vegetables [5]. Flavonoids have become darlings in the nutrition science world because research has shown that many of them provide significant health benefits like lowering inflammation in tissues and acting as antioxidants. Similarly, there is evidence the flavokavains in Tudei kava might be antifungal, antibacterial, and antioxidant [5]; Dr. Xiaolin Zhi at University of California Irvine has even discovered a tumor-preventive potential of flavokavain A in lab tests on mice [6]!

Seems good so far, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the research also suggests there are two big problems specifically with flavokavain B. First, Dr. Chris Xing of the University of Minnesota has stated that flavokavain B may deplete glutathione, an antioxidant, liver-protective enzyme [7]. In a recent video interview featured on Natural Products Insider, Xing said, “[T]hat compromises liver function for detoxification… which may contribute to the observed hepatotoxicity among kava users”. As an antioxidant, glutathione plays a crucial role in scavenging free radicals produced by mitochondria (the organelles responsible for cellular respiration), and a severe enough deficit of glutathione can be fatal for cells [8].

Even more troubling, this 2010 paper [9] found that flavokavain B also has direct toxic effects on two human liver cell lines: I’ll try not to get too technical, but the researchers found that adding flavokavain B to cultured liver cells inhibits a protein signaling pathway regulated by nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κ B) that is involved in preventing cell death caused by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). Under healthy conditions, these two signaling pathways balance each other, but when flavokavain B is added it knocks out the NF-κ B pathway, leading to apoptosis (death) of the treated liver cells.

Two things about this study stood out to me. One was that the researchers experimented with altering different parts of this process and discovered that adding exogenous glutathione rescued the liver cells from flavokavain B-induced cell death, even when the process had already been set in motion in the treated cells [9]. I couldn’t help but be reminded of studies of kava I’ve come across stating that brews prepared using traditional cold water steeping were found to extract glutathione into the water along with the kavalactones [10]. The Kava Guru finds it hard to believe that these two pieces of data are a coincidence!

Final Verdict—Should You Avoid Tudei Kava?

Well… it’s complicated. The paper described above reports the mechanism of toxicity for flavokavain B extracted from kava kava root using an organic solvent. It’s important to remember that the amount of flavokavain B present in the extract used does not necessarily match the amount that would be found in a traditionally prepared aqueous kava brew, or a kava extract prepared using a modern solvent such as supercritical cold CO2. It’s well known that ethanol and acetone, two once-common solvents used to extract kava, extract everything in the root, not just the kavalactones, and that could include much higher levels of potentially harmful flavokavain B [8].

In fact, on page 5, table 1 of the paper, the researchers compare concentrations of flavokavain B in aqueous kava brews versus acetone- and ethanol-extracted kava extracts: kava extracts made with a 60% acetone extract contained 26 mg of flavokavain B per 1 gram of kava used, while a pure acetone extract contained 33.7 mg/g, and a 95% ethanol extract contained 32.3 mg/g [9]. How much flavokavain B did a traditional water-based Tudei kava brew contain? 0.2 mg/g [9]! What surprises me most about this outcome is that it suggests solvent-extracted kava extracts may actually have had a role in some of the liver toxicity cases of the early 2000s, a theory I thought had been debunked until now.

The very small amount of flavokavain B in an aqueous Tudei kava brew should, I think, at least give one pause before totally condemning Tudei kava as unsafe. Furthermore, in a co-op paper with Samuel X. Qiu and Rolf Teschke, Vincent Lebot explored three possible explanations for the idiosyncratic liver toxicity found in some kava users in the early 2000s [11]. One of those possible mechanisms was the presence of flavokavain B from Tudei kava, and the other two were the presence of pipermethystine from the aerial parts of kava, and possible contamination of kava roots with mold toxins (aflatoxins). In their results, the researchers noted that although both flavokavain B and pipermethystine have been shown to kill liver cells in lab tests, neither compound was detected in the commercial kava extracts tested at levels that would be of concern to human health [11]. They couldn’t detect pipermethystine at all in the extracts they tested. As for flavokavain B, even in the kava extracts where it was present, Lebot et al report that the concentration was much too low to cause harm in their experimental tests on liver cells. The conclusion of the paper states that contamination with mold aflatoxins due to poor storage conditions of the kava tested is actually the most likely explanation for the liver toxicity seen in 2002 and earlier cases [11].

Of course, no one should ignore that flavokavain B has been shown to have a detrimental effect on liver cells. But rather than state unequivocally that Tudei kavas are dangerous to consume, we have to look at all the factors in their preparation in order to make an informed choice about consuming them. A Tudei kava that has been solvent extracted and probably contains significant levels of flavokavain B might be wise to avoid. While Tudei kavas are consumed in the South Pacific, these cultures have traditionally only steeped the roots in water, and restricted them to occasional ceremonial and medicinal use rather than everyday drinking. It seems now that there is sound science behind the tradition.

REFERENCES

1. “Kava Definitions”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 30th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/wiki/kava-definitions/.

2. “Tudei Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Accessed July 2nd, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-tudei.html.

3. Procyk, Andrew. “Drinking Tudei? Someone thinks you should probably stop.” The Kava Lounge: Science of Kava. Posted August 25th, 2013. http://kavalounge.yuku.com/topic/1576/Drinking-tudei-Someone-thinks-you-should-probably-stop#.U6iUeBZBm1A.

4. “WHO says Kava is Safe!” Kona Kava Farm Blog. Accessed July 2nd, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/kava-news/who-says-kava-is-safe/.

5. “Simple Test for Checking if your Kava is Tudei”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 26th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/threads/simple-test-for-checking-if-your-kava-is-tudei-please-read-if-youre-new-to-kava.2451/.

6. Vasich, Tom. “Can Kava Kava Cure Cancer?” UC Irvine News. Accessed June 29th, 2014. http://news.uci.edu/features/can-kava-cure-cancer/.

7. “New Science May Boost Kava Market” Insider TV: Natural Products Insider. Accessed July 2nd,2014. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspx.

8. “Dr. Xing: ‘Hepatotoxic Risk due to wrong cultivar […] and that Cultivar is Tudei Kava”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Last modified May 28th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/threads/dr-xing-hepatotoxic-risk-due-to-wrong-cultivar-and-that-cultivar-is-tudei-kava.2557/.

9. 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.

10. Whitton, PA, A Lau, A Salisbury, J Whitehouse, and CS Evans. October 2003. “Kavalactones and the kava kava controversy”. Phytochemistry 64 (3): 673-9.

11. Teschke, Rolf, Samuel X. Qiu, and Vincent Lebot. September 2011. “Herbal hepatotoxicity by kava: update on pipermethystine, flavokavain B, and mould hepatotoxins as primarily assumed culprits”. Digestive and Liver Disease 43 (9): 676-81.

From Myth to Medicine

KG-where did kava originate? 211X300While I’ve discussed the origin of Kava and the mythological accounts of Kava a bit – I’ve not really given a thorough account of the movement of Kava through the South Pacific ancestral myths to the Western world’s medicine cabinets. So, now I will reveal the all-inclusive article on the origin of Kava. I will do this in hope of divulging a more detailed and rigorous account of the origin of Kava – from when it arrived on earth from the Kava gods to its growth by South Pacific locals, to its  Western acquisition, and finally to the actual medicine cabinets of Europe and the rest of the Western world.   It’s a lot, but I think it’s just about time I sit down with a cup of Kava and trace the history of this dear plant – fully.

Myth and the Origin of Kava:

To find the origin of Kava, we first need to take a look at the origin of the people who have Kava (or ‘awa as most throughout Oceania call it) deeply entwined within their culture and mythology – the Polynesians. Although historical references are unfortunately scarce and often recorded by “outsiders” such as the European missionaries, the Polynesians nonetheless offer many clues as to how deeply important Kava was to their daily existence and their sacred rituals. Many of these clues can be found trailed through their myths and oral traditions.

The oral traditions, or mythological accounts of the Polynesian people are considered to recount history or ancient happenings through non-written form.   Oral tradition is a flexible method of relaying a particular story and is filled with dramatic story enhancers like metaphors and the personification of animals or gods. In oral traditions there isn’t a concrete structure to the stories being told and as a result the same story might vary from orator to orator. While the essential principles or message might remain the same, the setting or character names might change to suit the needs of the person telling the story [12].

While the Western conception of history is based in constructing a set knowledge about the past, Polynesian oral traditions are intended more to gain an understanding or legitimacy for the present way that things are [12]. Given the very different method of constructing the past as non-written, varying stories – it is needless to say quite difficult to determine any kind of  factuality about Polynesian history, including the use of Kava.

The true origin of Kava essentially must be left to an account of the myths and legends of South Pacific localities and details of its arrival in the islands and use by the people are essentially left to the gods and deities that flow through Polynesian oral tradition.

From Myth to Cultivar:

While our exact knowledge basis of Kava and its use by the Polynesian people is quite limited — because of the nature of the historical records – we can nonetheless construct a semi-thorough understanding of the ancient use of Kava through an analysis of bits and pieces collected from research papers, myths, and other texts. One thing that many ethnobotanists seem to consistently agree upon is that Piper methysticum – the kava kava plant – came from Piper wichmannii, a wild plant that scientists say is in the direct botanical lineage of Piper methysticum. Given that Piper methysticum is a cultivar, it essentially cannot propagate or adapt without human interaction and as a result it is believed that it was adapted from a wild plant of the same species [7].   Vincent Lebot, along with several other authors on Kava, stated that essentially all of the worthwhile evidence on the topic indicates that the plant Piper methysticum is a cultivar of Piper wichmannii. Piper wichmannii is a fertile plant that is morphologically similar to Piper methysticum. Furthermore, Piper wichmannii is the only known varietal in the wild to carry a high quantity of kavalactones like Piper methysticum, and it has an almost identical chemotype as some Piper methysticum cultivars [1].

The points highlighted above only touch the surface of evidence indicating that Piper methysticum is the direct result of Piper wichmannii cultivation, but they nonetheless serve to illustrate just how vastly detailed the body of evidence is. Over the centuries each South Pacific region has established a unique cultivar with its own chemical profile [5].

Although New Guinea has the most varied population of Piper wichmannii, and is thus a contender for the origin of its cultivar Piper methysticum, there isn’t enough concrete evidence or historical data to determine just where Piper wichmannii came from or how it evolved. Where Piper wichmannii came from is perhaps a story that must be left to the gods of South Pacific mythology. One myth tells of a godly and heroic entity named Mwatiktiki, who comes from some far off place to Tanna – an island in Vanuatu. This being places the original kava kava plant between rocks by the shore. Two local women happen upon the plant and have pleasurable experiences with it. They then bring it back to their localities and cultivate it, eventually sharing its joys with their fellow villagers [10]. Presumably, this mythological story is speaking of the discovery of Piper wichmannii, which was then farmed and cultivated by the people of Vanuatu.

European Acquisition, Captain Cook and the Missionaries:

While many history texts construct Captain Cook as a hero of sorts, a person of great determination and one to be thanked for many things – the account of locals from the places he landed during his adventures tells of quite a different character. Even the historical references recorded by “outsiders”, such as the European missionaries and Captain Cook himself, offer many clues as to how deeply important Kava was to the South Pacific Islanders’ daily existence and their sacred rituals and how this divine root made its way to Europe and other continents.

The sources are inconsistent with regard to Captain Cook and his involvement with Kava and the culture surrounding it. Some sources depict his adventure to the South Pacific Islands as one of great immersion and enjoyment in Kava culture, while other sources emphasize his and his crew’s disdain for the drink and their especial disgust with the process of making it: “Kava is made in the most disgustful manner that can be imagined…they swallow this nauseous stuff as fast as possible…” [13].

One source that highlights Cook’s disapproval of the drink states the following as coming from Cook’s own texts:

“The Excess with which the Chief[s] drink the Kava, destroys their Strength & makes them sad objects of Debauchery, they far outdo in the use of this pernicious root all the other Indians we have vist’d; the more Scaly their bodies are, the more honourable it is with them. . . . Many before they are forty are miserable Objects, their whole frame trembles, their Eyes are so sore & reddened, that they seem in Constant pain; yet I believe in a short time by disusing this liq- uor the soreness of the Eyes goes away; at least we made some of our friends refrain & they re- covered amazingly”[5].

Yet, Gananath Obeyesekere – the author of The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific – illuminates another side to the story:

“Sociability and decorum drew Cook into the Kava circle of Tongan chiefly life. They were repelled by the way that it was brewed, but Cook was impressed by the sociability it fostered. Cook was invited to a Kava circle by Paulaho the “king” on 7 June, only four days after landing in Nomuka. Soon Cook was fully ensconced in the Kava circle, so that Lieutenant Williamson noted on 17 July that ‘Captain Cook often drank of it, holding it as an argument that seamen should eat and drink everything…’” [8]

While it’s unclear whether or not Captain Cook actually favored the Kava drink, given that the sources on the matter are inconsistent – it can be said for certain that the missionaries loathed the entire concept of Kava and Kava culture and its religious underpinnings. Unfortunately, even from a purely objective viewpoint, these European missionaries, according to their own recorded documents, went to great lengths to obliterate the culture of the Polynesians in order to overlay Christianity onto various peoples with a brutality that I will do my best to only touch upon as necessary to illustrate key points on this particular journey of discovery. As part of this, the missionaries made it their Christian duty to obliterate Kava and its consumption.

First, it appears that Polynesians were so intricately connected with nature, that they had no concept of the “supernatural” or “spiritual” as defined by modern or “book” religions as I call them.  To the Polynesians, everything belonged to nature, whether it was their own existence, the plants and animals they coexisted with and often consumed, the living gods among them as chiefs (we would call them demigods), or the gods who ruled the plants, the land, the seas, the skies, and the stars that guided their daily lives and controlled the forces of nature.

The Polynesians revere their gods as “departed ancestors” who lived among them long ago. The Polynesian reverence for their elders thus makes complete sense, as their elders are the closest living connection to their gods.  Chiefs were typically chosen because of their physical prowess, their robustness in size and stature, and were trained in warfare from the time they were boys. Chiefs were also on the front lines in battles, and weren’t just warriors, but were also decision makers in every aspect of Polynesian life.

There are several “venerated spirits” in Polynesian culture that stand out from the rest.  These gods were the most distant ancestors, and the greatest providers of “mana” (spiritual power).  These gods are “Tu” (Ku in Hawaiian), “Tane” (Kane in Hawaiian), “Kongo” (Lono in Hawaiian), and “Tangaroa” (Kanaloa in Hawaiian).  All were children of the sky father and earth mother.  Kava is often mentioned in Hawaiian culture along with Kane and Kanaloa; Kane is a god of good and Kanaloa is a mischievous, rebellious god often associated with the Christian devil.

One example is a standard prayer of offerings in exchange for health for individuals and their families; “O Kane, O Kanaloa, here is the taro, the bananas, here is the sugar-cane, the ‘awa.”

According to Hawaiian Mythology, “Kane and Kanaloa are described in legend as cultivators, ‘awa drinkers, and water finders, who migrated from Kahiki and traveled about the islands.  It is as ‘awa drinkers that the water-finding activities of these gods are employed in some stories, because ‘awa is their principal food and they must have fresh water with which to mix it.”

‘Kahiki’ is the Hawaiian, somewhat out of use, name for Tahiti – a region in the South Pacific. The Hawaiian people revere Kahiki as the ancestral land from which the Hawaiian people came from and from where their ‘akua’ or supernatural being originated [3]. This understanding of Kahiki, as an ancestral land, probably also sheds some light on the question of how Kava came to Hawaii.   As mentioned above the Polynesians believed their gods to be born from their ancestral lineage. Furthermore, much of Kava mythology explains that Kava came from the gods or a god [10], thus providing the link between Hawaiian ancestry – as understood by them – and the acquisition of Kava.

However, given this indigenous religion of the South Pacific island communities, Christian missionaries found it fit to invoke a dogmatic cleansing of the culture – a cleansing that included banning and destroying Kava. In Hawaii during the 1820’s, Queen Ka’ahumanu declared that neither chiefs nor anyone else were permitted to drink ‘awa and that it was also not to be planted; this happened just a few years after the missionaries arrived and were implementing Christianity. However, one missionary – John S. Emerson – wrote of how these prohibitions were being greatly violated.   As a result of further pressures and dogmatic action, ‘awa was thrown into the legal books and laws surrounding its use were enacted – its permitted use was solely medicinal.   Sadly, there are far fewer cultivars now in Hawaii as a direct result of this ‘purity cleansing’ – some estimate that there may have been up to 35 various cultivars prior to missionary involvement [5].

Yadhu Singh explains how when the evangelical missionaries arrived in various places within the Polynesian islands, there was a “disruption of the traditional way of life”, and that alcohol and other more pharmacological substances began to be introduced and replaced Kava.

Despite the missionaries’ attempted indoctrination of the Polynesian communities, Kava survived and has made a come back and is actually very much still popular in most South Pacific island communities. Singh suggests that the resurgence might have been due in part to the development of the John Frum cargo cult, which was an uprising directly in repudiation of Christian teachings. Carlton Gadjusek – a noble Laureate – noted that the Kava-drinking tradition of Tongariki was more like that of the Kava-drinking tradition of the Frum cult out of Tanna, given its lack of formality and restraint [10].

Transition into Western Medicinal World:

There was however one beneficial result of the missionaries’ circulation throughout the islands. It’s quite likely that many of the nations neighboring the Polynesian Kava-growing communities learned about Kava from the missionaries who had traveled through those islands. Singh tells us how the Australian Aborigines were unaware of Kava until the early 1980’s when missionaries came from islands like Fiji and Tonga [10]. Although, other island nations like Hawaii, probably received ‘awa from neighboring island communities, as their mythology suggests [5].

While there is no direct documentation of how Kava first arrived in Europe and other continents outside of the Polynesian regions, it’s fairly safe to assume it was brought over by the missionaries and crew of the Captain Cook voyages. However, until the mid 1990’s the major demand for Kava remained within the South Pacific islands – after 1996, import into Europe and elsewhere began to increase dramatically, with a decrease during the reign of Kava bans [10]. While there was a growing interest in Kava – throughout Europe and elsewhere – with an especially keen interest in its anxiolytic qualities, there was a ban in the early 2000’s that reverberated throughout many North American and European countries, nearly wiping out the export of Kava from the South Pacific islands. I speculate and draw out the details of this ban in other articles and so I won’t go into much detail here. But, essentially the ban was initiated by the German  Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (in English, Federal Institute for Drugs and Medicinal Devices) and was later (fairly recently) declared to be unfounded and the ban was lifted in Germany; the ban was lifted in North America and other places prior to the recent developments in Germany [9].

Today, some places such as Australia still have restrictions on the import of Kava [2] – however, the restrictions are minimal and Kava is generally accepted worldwide now, slowly recovering from the bans placed throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. For example, in Canada, Kava is no longer banned and the sale of Kava to individuals for personal consumption is permitted – although it’s unclear what the exact status is on commercial sales within Canada [6].

Outside of the South Pacific, Kava is predominantly used as a social beverage for personal relaxation and anxiety relief. For example, in the States there is a growing number of Kava bars – a social place where people can go to hang out with friends, relax and drink Kava beverages. However, probably its most widespread notoriety outside of the South Pacific islands is the use of Kava as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) substance in alternative medicine [5]. Many studies have been conducted that conclude that the use of Kava to treat anxiety is effective, and even better than pharmaceutical options, given that it is non-addictive and actually improves cognitive function rather than impairing it as other options do [11].

Ahhh, well I’m now through several shells of Kava and ready for a lovely snooze. I hope this somewhat historical document outlining the route of Kava, from myth to alternative medicine, has been helpful. Kava certainly has had quite the journey, from its divine origin, to its mainstream island culture, to its Christian prohibition and finally to its more recent debut in Europe and North America. I sure am grateful that the missionaries didn’t have complete success in their dogmatic infiltration and I’m also glad that Captain Cook didn’t totally hate Kava (as some sources might suggest) – as was noted above, even Captain Cook couldn’t resist the lure of the mystifying Piper methysticum.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. Applequist, and Lebot, Vincent. “Validation of Piper methysticum var. wichmannii (Piperaceae)”. Novon, Vol. 16 (1): April 2006, pp. 3-4

2. Australian Government – Department of Health. “Frequently Asked Questions on the Importation of Kava”. Online: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/importation-of-kava

3. Cook, R. Kealani.“Kahiki: Native Hawaiian Relationships with Other Pacific Islanders”. Dissertation, University of Michigan: 2011.

4. Herbal Legacy, online: http://www.herballegacy.com/Wolsey_History.html

5. Johnston and Helen Rogers. Hawaiian ‘Awa: Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure. Association for Hawaiian ‘Awa, 2006.

6. Kona Kava Farm. “Kava (not) banned in Canada”. Online: http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-canada-banned.htm

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

8. Obeyesekere, Gananath. The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific. Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1992: p. 33.

9. Radio New Zealand: “German Court Overturns Kava Ban. Online: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/246963/german-court-overturns-kava-ban

10. Singh, Yadhu N. Kava: From Ethnology to Pharmacology. Taylor and Francis LTD: 2004.

11. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Kava Kava”. Last modified: May 07, 2013. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/kava-kava

12. Wikipedia. “Polynesian Myth”. Last modified, February 27, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesian_mythology

13. Wolsey, Lindsay. “The Benefits of the use of kava kava in Herbal Preparations: History of kava kava.” Dr. Christopher’s

 

Did Shaman Ever Use Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

Did shaman ever use kava?

Alex,

Boston, MA

This is an interesting and complicated question, and I’ll do my best to give a clear answer. Kava is unlike many plant medicines used in ceremonies in that it was used in many other non-ceremonial contexts as well, including as a social relaxant that commoners as well as nobles could easily access. However, kava also did—and still does—have its place in ritual divinations and ceremonies in which indigenous priests and magic workers made contact with their gods and ancestors. So yes, in a sense indigenous shamanic figures have used kava sacramentally! However, kava has also been used ritually in far broader contexts than divination and religious ceremonies, a fact that sets it apart from many ritual shamanic plant medicines.

Substances for shamanic or ritual use are usually plants or fungi with physiological and psychoactive effects, some of them subtle, some less so. Many shamanic plants are used only in ceremonies and are considered quite powerful, necessitating their removal from the realm of the everyday. Others, such as kava, wine, coca leaf, and even coffee, are used both in ritual and social contexts [1]. According to traditional belief systems, kava is believed to facilitate contact with ancestors, gods, and spirits of the departed [2]. For many indigenous South Pacific Islanders, consuming kava is not only a ritual act but one that maintains the connection to the spirit world [2]. However, a big difference between kava and many other ceremonial plant medicines is that its consumption was not restricted to priests or shaman but could be experienced by anyone.

In fact, the kava ceremony has remained an integral part of social bonding all across the South Pacific probably for hundreds if not thousands of years. Important occasions such as coronations, weddings, and naming ceremonies for infants all include ritual kava consumption in the proceedings. In ritual contexts like these, consuming kava is believed to encourage good fortune and propitiate gods and ancestors [2]. On the Hawaiian Islands, common folk such as farmers and fishers would frequently offer the gods libations of ‘awa (kava) to ensure a bountiful harvest or catch [3]. Along with red fish, cocoa nuts, and wild boar, kava was among the traditional offerings made during the crafting of a koa (wooden canoe): a kahuna, or Hawaiian shaman, would retire to the forest for a few days to consult the gods and find the perfect tree to harvest. Then he would lead a party from the village into the forest to make the ritual offerings before felling the tree and taking it back to the village [3]. In a similar ritual use in Fiji and nearby regions, libations of kava are sometimes poured on the ground to commemorate the naming of a new ship[4].

You might be able to see why it can be difficult to separate kava’s magical uses from its larger ritual context; yet there are some traditional kava ceremonies that carry a distinct shamanic tone. For instance, Hawaiian kahuna have long taken kava as a way of obtaining divine inspiration from indigenous deities. For this purpose, a special varietal of kava called Hiwa, or black kava, was often used [5]. Typically the kahuna would first offer some of the sacred ‘awa to the deity he wanted to call on for inspiration, by sprinkling or pouring some of the prepared ‘awa onto a carved image of the deity. In cases where there was no image, the kahuna might sprinkle a bit of ‘awa into the air before consuming the leftover portion [6].

Priests also used kava brews as a divination tool: in a practice similar to reading tea leaves, the practitioner would blow on the surface of a bowl full of prepared kava and interpret the pattern made by the bubbles to determine lucky courses of action [2]. This kind of kava divination was used to name infants (especially boys), diagnose illnesses, and predict the sex of unborn children [2]. Sounds pretty shamanic to me!

Native Fijians also used kava as a divining tool, though there the practice would be done by lay diviners—ordinary people, in other words—as well as priests [3]. Kava has always had a strong connection to themes of death and rebirth in Fijian myth, and some stories claim that kava was a gift from the creator god Degei to the first humans to inhabit the islands [7]. Similarly, indigenous Hawaiians consider kava a gift from the gods Kane and Kanaloa [8]. Kane and Kanaloa are companion deities in the Hawaiian pantheon, with a deep connection both to humans and the natural world that surrounds them: Kane is said to be the ancestor of both chiefs and commoners, and is also the god of sunlight, fresh water, forests, and the growth of plants. Kanaloa—sometimes also called Kane-ma—is the companion of Kane and is the god of the ocean, marine life, and healing [8]. According to legend, in ancient times Kane and Kanaloa brought the kava plant to Hawaii from Kahiki, the ancestral homeland of Hawaiian myth. They planted kava all over the islands, sometimes causing springs to flow in areas where there was no water so that the kava could grow there [9]. There are similar connections between kava and indigenous gods in most areas of the South Pacific, and as a result the plant is always harvested and used with the utmost respect.

It probably comes as no shock that Christian missionaries to the South Pacific Islands tried to ban kava kava. Many believed it allowed the devil into the mind—a common rationale for attempts to ban indigenous plant medicines with ritual use throughout the non-Western world. Of course, kava was also problematic because of the connection it created between indigenous peoples and their deities and spirits, which got in the way of the missionaries’ conversion efforts.

Luckily, today kava kava has returned to its popular status in the South Pacific as a herbal libation that can be enjoyed by one and all. Though kava kava has never been the exclusive province of shamans or priests, I hope this article has helped you gain a bit more appreciation for this wonderful herb’s ritual dimensions, as well as the deep history of reverence and spiritual significance behind its use.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “Entheogen”. Wikipedia. Last modified May 25th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entheogen.

2. Wolsey, Lindsay. “History of Kava Kava”. Accessed May 15th, 2014. http://www.herballegacy.com/Wolsey_History.html.

3. Malo, David. 1951. Hawaiian Antiquities. Honolulu: B.P. Bishop Museum Press.

4. “Fiji Culture and Kava”. Kava Dot Com. Accessed May 15th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=59.

5. “Piper methysticum– Strains and Origins”. Wikipedia. Last modified May 14th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_methysticum#Strains_and_origins.

6. Beckwith, Martha. 1970. Hawaiian Mythology. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

7. “Fiji Mythology”. Kava Dot Com. Accessed May 27th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=868.

8. Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Samuel H. Elbert. 1973. Hawaiian Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

9. Handy, E.S. Craighill, Elizabeth Green Handy, and Mary Kawena Pukui. 1972. Native Planters in Old Hawaii: Their Life, Lore, and Environment. Rev. ed. Bulletin 233. Honolulu: B.P. Bishop Museum Press.

How to Grow Kava Kava

How to Grow Kava Kava“But Kava Guru,” you may ask, “why learn how to grow kava kava when there are so many online retailers offering products almost as new and potent as the fresh variety?” While it is pretty easy to get high-quality dried kava root at reasonable prices these days, there’s still a difference between kava brewed from fresh roots and that brewed from the dried variety. This why many “kavasseurs” decide to take the next step in their kava appreciation by growing kava at home! If you want to try growing kava at home, search for a kava vendor selling live seedlings or rootstock. Keep in mind that domesticated Piper methysticum (kava kava) plants are sterile—meaning they produce no seed—and new plants must always be grown from cuttings or the root bundle of the plant. Kava kava has relied on humans for its propagation for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Basic Requirements of Kava Kava

As a tropical plant, kava kava is happiest at temperatures of 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit (20-25 Celsius), and in conditions with lots of water, sun and moderate humidity [1]. If you live in a warm southern state, say Florida, Texas, Southern California or of course Hawaii, you may just be able to keep kava happy outside all year long! Residents of more northern states can usually still plant kava outside in the summer, but should take it inside or to a greenhouse once temperatures drop to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) or below for three consecutive nights. In nature, kava kava usually grows under the jungle canopy, so it does best with partial shade rather than full sun, especially when young; a good indoor solution is to keep kava in a pot next to a sunny window to provide good light conditions [1].

Watering and Soil Requirements

Pot your kava kava plant in loose soil that allows for water drainage to prevent root rot: growers usually recommend a blend of 50% organic compost and 50% Perlite or coconut coir. Remember, kava evolved to expect regular rainfall in its jungle habitat, so water your kava regularly! If you’re growing it in a drier environment such as indoors, you’ll probably want to mist your kava’s leaves with a spray bottle to maintain a good level of humidity. Make sure to keep it away from air conditioning vents (or areas of high wind, if outside), as it could dry out your kava plant [1]. When kava kava is young, it typically needs a soil depth of between 6 inches to a foot to put down roots; however, as it matures kava will require much deeper soil so that its root system can expand. One method is to repot kava in your garden bed: select an area where the soil is at least 2 feet deep, then dig a hole 2 to 3 times deeper than the length of your kava plant’s roots. Add a couple trowelsfull of compost, manure, or fertilizer (see below for the recommended fertilizer ratio!). Then backfill the hole with about half the loose soil you just removed, place your kava plant into the hole and gently tamp the loose soil around the base of the stem [2].

Fertilizer Requirements

As a jungle plant, kava kava rapidly depletes nutrients in the soil, so it will definitely do best with a rich fertilizer in the mix. You can add a natural humus, animal manure, or even a commercial nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) fertilizer. If you go with an NPK fertilizer, use an element ratio of 14-14-14; when the plant is young, use about the half the manufacturer’s recommended dose to avoid burning the young kava’s roots, which can lead to root rot—definitely not something you want! Once your kava has reached maturity at one or two years, you can add more fertilizer. Replenish your kava plant’s fertilizer once a month. A bonus of adding fertilizer is that it helps the soil maintain a pH balance of between 5.5-6.5, which mimics that of the soil in kava’s indigenous jungle habitat [3].

Protecting Kava from Pests and Disease

It’s pretty rare for kava grown in the home or garden to have disease or pest problems, but it can happen. Some pathogens kava is susceptible to include phoma or “shothole” fungus, cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), Pythium root rot, root knot nematodes, melon aphids, and spider mites. Whew! The most common causes of these pathogens is diseased or infested starting material, and poor growing conditions that make the kava plants susceptible to infection. Buy your kava plants in person if possible, or if ordering online, check them as soon as your shipment arrives to make sure the plants don’t show signs of disease like wilted or curled leaves, holes or spots on leaves, or roots that might be swollen, deformed, or rotted. Compost any diseased looking plants you find, and don’t mix the compost in with healthy plants [2]. Poor growing conditions can also contribute to disease, especially poor soil drainage, so always make sure your plant’s soil drains well; maintaining a moderate level of humidity can also go a long way toward deterring pests like spider mites and aphids. You can also usually wash pests off kava leaves with a strong jet of water, or apply a gentle insecticidal soap to the leaves—just make sure not to let it dry on them. Sprinkling a little diatomaceous earth around the top of the soil can also help control soft-bodied insects [2].

How to Propagate Kava Kava

Let’s say your kava plant is growing wonderfully and you’ve started to think about getting some seedlings started. There are two ways to propagate kava plants, both of them fairly easy once you get the hang of it [4]. The first method is to divide your kava plant’s root bundle: gently pull your kava plant from its pot or garden bed and brush off any excess soil. Then divide the root mass in places where you see smaller root masses branching off—this may be easiest at the edges of the root mass, where there are usually many root offshoots. Remove the offshoots and repot them in smaller containers, then replant the parent plant, and you’re done! A Young Kava Seedling

Young kava seedlings can be grown from root or stem cuttings.

Once your kava plant has sufficiently matured, you can also take stem cuttings to make new kava seedlings. These are areas along kava’s aboveground stem, usually near the nodes, where new leaves branch off on daughter stems called pikos. To make sure your plant is mature enough, wait until the stem is tough enough that you can’t easily penetrate its skin with a thumbnail. Use a clean blade to remove greenwood stem cuttings from the stalk, and pot up the cuttings in a loose mixture of organic compost and vermiculite or coconut coir. Place the cuttings in a greenhouse ( to create humidity) or a heated propagator. You can also place a loose plastic tarp over the cuttings and mist the inside periodically to maintain humidity [4].

Harvesting Your Kava Root

Ah, now we get to the part you’ve all been waiting for! Growing kava is a project that takes patience, not least of all because you must wait 2 to 5 years for kava to fully mature before harvesting its roots. Harvesting kava before at least one year of age (ideally two or more) could kill or seriously harm the plant. This will also give time for the accumulation of kavalactones in the roots, making for a stronger kava brew [3]! Luckily, kava kava is easy to harvest: simply pull the roots gently from the soil, wash off the rootstock, and snip off a few lateral roots. These are the roots growing along the soil. Lateral roots are generally considered to be higher in kavalactones and have a better flavor than the vertical root [3]. After repotting your plant, examine the harvested roots and discard any that have mold on them. Cut the fresh roots into small sections, and freeze or sun dry any that you don’t plan to use immediately. Now you have your very own supply of exquisitely fresh, potent kava root. Yum! Mahalo, Kava Guru REFERENCES 1. “Kava Plant for Sale”. Buy Kava Direct. Accessed June 2nd, 2014. http://buykavadirect.com/kava-plant-for-sale/. 2. Green, Jenny. “How to Grow Kava Kava”. eHow. Last updated May 29th, 2014. http://www.ehow.com/how_4421053_grow-kava-kava.html. 3. “Kava Plants”. Kona Kava Farm Accessed June 6th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-plants.html. 4. “Growing Piper methysticum– Kava Kava”. Plot55. Accessed June 5th, 2014. http://plot55.com/growing/p.methysticum.html.

German Kava Victory – Ban Repeal!

silhouette of a happy pregnant womanVery recently there has been a beautiful transition within the kava community! The decision to place a ban on kava kava and kava-containing products was overturned by Germany’s Federal Administrative Court!!

A ban was placed in 2002 on kava kava and products containing kava, throughout Germany. What could initiate such a ridiculous ban in the first place you may ask – well, the answer has a lot to do with studies done by the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte, or “BfArM”). BfArM published a series of studies back in the mid 2000’s that propelled a ton of dramatized media and the circulation of misinformation surrounding the topic of kava and liver toxicity. The studies published findings that were said to evidence the claims that kava causes liver toxicity. Sadly, the conclusions of these studies were taken at face value and many countries invoked bans on the import and sale of kava and kava-containing products.

It’s pretty remarkable that these studies did have such an influence, considering the rapidly increasing body of research and case studies that were proving kava to be a wonderful natural option for remedying anxiety symptoms. These negative studies were almost simultaneously surfacing alongside studies declaring the benefit and need for kava in the European world, and yet many bans were emplaced. At the time this odd simultaneity caused conspiracy theories to circulate about the possible influence of pharmaceutical giants who had an interest in suppressing the kava market. While those theories have been neither proven nor disproven, it is certainly very possible considering how very natural, non-chemical and beneficial kava was proving to be; at the time, kava was already starting to put quite a dent in the pharmaceutical money pool.

Of course, many kava enthusiasts were incredibly unhappy about these bans – and doctors, researchers and health practitioners went to work to fight for the restored image of kava kava. One pressing point that encouraged these researchers and enthusiasts was how Vanuatans and other island populations had been drinking daily doses of kava for centuries and had no reported issues relating to the problems that the BfArM studies were declaring. Many studies have been done, and are still being done, that point out areas of flawed research practice and inconclusive evidence within the BfArM and related studies; and thank the kava gods for that – most of the bans that had been emplaced have since been lifted!

I’ve done a bit of tinkering around on the worldwide web and it seems that the ban was partially repealed in Germany back in 2005. At that time Mathias Schmidt, PhD, a kava researcher and scientist, said the following: “We are glad that the discussion is now re-opened, and we hope to finally come to a constructive dialogue with the BfArM”.

So, given all of the recent news circulating about a current repeal of the ban on kava in Germany – this does leave me a bit confused. My guess is that there has been further development in the repeal and that now residual aspects of the initial ban that lingered after the first repeal have now also been lifted; residual aspects that likely made the sale and import of kava quite problematic.

Dr. Vincent Lebot – an author and researcher on kava – states that the battle for the import and sale of kava in the US and EU, which has greatly affected exports in Vanuatu, has lasted twelve years! So, it does seem that this fight for kava has been an ongoing and transitional phenomenon, with the most recent victory happening in the Federal Administrative Court of Germany: “The court found the risk of using kava was not unusually high and mere doubts over a medicinal product did not justify it being banned.”

As Dr. Lebot says, “it’s a clear victory for all of us who know that when kava is properly used with the right varieties cultivated with the right agricultural practices in a reasonable way, we know that it’s not a dangerous product.”

I think it’s probably the grandest victory of all for the South Pacific Island communities, many of whom rely on international kava trade and export to survive.  As product sales in the EU, United States of America, Canada, and elsewhere continue to escalate and become more fluid and less legally problematic, export out of the South Pacific Islands will increase and the island communities will greatly benefit in so, so, so many ways! Not only are the loving benefits of kava being spread worldwide – but also, pressing financial needs and socioeconomic conditions in the island nations will be significantly appeased.

On that note, I will once again send many thanks to the kava spirits and mythical gods for these victories and can only hope for many more to come!!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

Radio New Zealand: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/246963/german-court-overturns-kava-ban

Kona Kava Farm: http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-germany-banned.html

Richter’s Website: http://www.richters.com/show.cgi?page=Issues/kava.html

Free KavaDotCom Kava

A few Kava vendors have asked to be featured on Kava Guru.  The moment the fourth request appeared in my Inbox, I got an idea:  Why not offer Kava from my favorite companies and/or from those who offer it to us for free, and hand it off to Facebook fans instead, with on stipulation: Anyone who requests the free Kava, must write a review for it corresponding posts here? Continue Reading

More Evidence Suggests Kava Does not Cause Liver Problems When Used Correctly

KG-Kava Studies 211X300We have all heard of and are plagued by the infamous “German Study”, and others studies, that indicate that kava kava might cause liver problems (hepatotoxicity) – but, I am pleased to yet again offer some new insight into the fallible nature of those studies. Recently, at an Oxford annual conference on the ‘science of botanicals’, a presentation was given on new research findings about Kava that offer further evidence to suggest that pure kava kava, used correctly, does not cause liver damage! And furthermore, that Kava is actually a healthy and desirable dietary supplement, when used correctly.

At the annual Oxford conference – the International Conference on the Science and Regulation of Botanicals (ICSB), hosted by the National Center for Natural Product Research (NCNPR) – Chris Xing, Ph.D, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, gave a presentation on recent research findings with regard to Kava that outlined just how the German studies could have been wrong [4].

In an interview with Steve Myers – Senior Editor of Natural Products INSIDER – Dr. Xing discusses the highlights of the presentation at some length. According to Dr. Xing, it’s possible that those studies used a strain or cultivar called “Tudai Kava”. This particular strand carries a high amount of a chemical that “compromises liver function or detoxification function that may contribute to the observed hepatotoxicity among kava users” [4].

Dr. Xing and his associates, believe that the hepatotoxic cultivar “… got into the market mainly because it grows faster and offered a higher yield” [4], which stands as a warning to all of us to always do research about a product before using it! It is important to realize that, like with anything, companies will always find ways to make money faster and sometimes the ways companies choose to do this might not always be beneficial to the consumer, and can sometimes even be damaging!

According to Dr. Xing the hepatotoxicity reports then, which were very few as it is, are “probably due to a wrong cultivar, not recommended for traditional use” [4].   This information is consistent with other studies and findings on Kava that indicate the failings of the German studies. For example, an article in the Journal of Toxicology – “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous Kava extracts” – discusses how island populations that have been using kava kava for centuries have no reports of problems with liver function directly related to kava use [2].

We are all very fortunate that these findings are surfacing and the reputation of Kava is being rectified, as it does provide many benefits to people, such as relaxation and anxiety relief. As Dr. Xing says, “We believe that Kava, with proper standardization, removing its hepatotoxic species…will benefit humans as an anxiolytic and dietary supplement”.

“Kava kava had a rise and a fall, and right now it looks like it’s coming back”, says Dr. Xing in his interview with Myers of INSIDER [4]. And this is wonderful news for everyone, because kava kava provides a wonderful alternative to harmful pharmaceuticals used to combat anxiety and stress-related symptoms.

Some sources, such as statisticbrain.com and the American Psychology Association (APA), indicate a rise in stress, anxiety and other related symptoms, as well as that over 70% of the United States of America’s population suffers from such symptoms [1]. Many people turn to medicinal means to combat the pain and suffering they experience as a result of mental health problems – like stress, anxiety and related symptoms. In the Western world these medicinal means have traditionally been pharmaceutical or at the very least synthesized chemical solutions. But, these solutions are damaging people’s bodies and minds! There have been reports of pharmaceuticals, like Prozac, causing brain damage that results in the development of tics and other neurological disorders [3]. Yuck, how terrible!

Fortunately, the scientific and medical community is coming to terms with the real problems that pharmaceutical and chemical solutions can cause, and more and more people are turning to natural alternatives like kava kava as an answer to their problems. I am so grateful that a better understanding of Kava is being brought to the forefront of the scientific community by Dr. Xing and others like him, so that people can see and experience just how wonderful Kava is as a healthy supplement option!

Sources:

1. American Psychological Association – American Institute of Stress, NY.  July 28, 2013. Online: http://www.statisticbrain.com/stress-statistics/

2. Clough AR, Bailie RS, Currie B.  “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous kava extracts”.  Journal of Toxicology. 2003. 41(6):821-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14677792

3. Lamvert, Craig. “The Downsides of Prozac”. Harvard Magazine, June 2000. Online: http://harvardmagazine.com/2000/05/the-downsides-of-prozac-html

4. 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.aspx

Is Kava Better Fresh?

Dear Kava Guru,

Is Kava better fresh?

Karen,

Wichita, KS

This is a question for the true kava aficionado—one who has deeply explored all the facets of kava, the many tasty and enjoyable varieties, and is now wondering what more can be done to maximize the kava experience. Is kava better fresh is certainly a question the Guru has also pondered, and when given the chance, I would say the experience of fresh kava is not to be missed!

In the South Pacific, kava brews made from fresh roots are often the norm. Though kava roots are usually dried before being sold at market or given away as gifts, in informal village get-togethers the root is often prepared fresh. This means that more effort must be put into processing the kava: while dried roots can be easily pounded into a powder using a mortar and pestle, due to their moisture content the fresh roots are more resilient and must be shredded or chewed—still a common practice in some South Pacific regions—before being steeped in cool water [1]. However, this effort may well be worth it!

There are three main reasons why kava may be even better fresh than dried: higher strength, sweeter flavor, and the certainty that you’re getting a single strain of kava. Read on as I share my guru wisdom about the points in favor of fresh kava root!

Strength: First on the list is that all-important factor when choosing kava—strength! Fresh kava root often has the reputation of being stronger than the dried root [2], and there are two very simple reasons why this is probably so. First of all, fresh kava root is, well, fresh! When you buy fresh you know for certain that the kava root was harvested from the plant only a few days ago and the kavalactones have had little time to degrade [3]. Though dried kava root or root powder lasts longer if properly stored, if it has been stored in suboptimal conditions it can lose a great deal of its strength.

The second reason fresh kava may be stronger is because it is sold whole rather than pre-ground. This has to do with surface area: once the root has been peeled, the kavalactones in kava (being somewhat volatile) can escape when exposed to the air over time. When kava root is ground into a fine powder, it creates LOTS of surface area for compounds to escape from, because each granule of kava root is exposed to air [4]. In contrast, the whole fresh root has a smaller overall surface area, which seals in most of the root matter and its constituents from the air. For a useful analogy, think about coffee beans: baristas and coffee gurus everywhere always tell us that whole bean coffee is better than ground for the same reason—whole beans lose fewer constituents to the air and thus retain their full flavor for much longer.

Single Strain: Perhaps more important to the kava connoisseur, but certainly worth noting as well, is that when you buy fresh kava root you know you’re getting a single strain of kava. Powdered kava root, as well as products like instant kava and kava capsules, may often be a blend of different kava strains rather than a single-origin cultivar. Again, this is totally fine if you simply want to use kava to relax and unwind; all kava strains have their merits and I would be overstepping my bounds by declaring one strain to be better than the others (though the Kava Guru has his favorites, heh heh). Yet if you’re interested in getting to know kava’s various strains and their individual effects, perhaps to employ them for a specific medicinal use…then obtaining whole kava root, fresh or dried, is absolutely the way to go!

Flavor: Another reason for the buzz around fresh kava root is simply that it may taste sweeter than the dried version. There’s reason to think the drying process may affect the ratio of chemical constituents in kava root (especially the older, vertical roots), resulting in a bitterer brew than that made from fresh kava root [2]. Now, kava is quite a chemically complex plant, so it makes sense that even a simple heat treatment such as sun drying could affect its overall flavor. If you’re someone who finds the taste of dried kava less than agreeable, it might be worthwhile to seek out the fresh variety.

However, don’t despair if you can’t order fresh kava where you are; there are ways to get the most out of dried kava for an experience approaching the fresh variety. Check out strains of kava known to be sweeter even when dried, such as Tongan kava or Hawaiian Mahakea kava. You can also look for kava powders with a high lateral to vertical root ratio, as the young lateral roots of kava tend to be sweeter (and may be stronger as well). To prevent your dried kava from losing strength, try buying the whole dried kava root or kava root chips and shred or grind them as needed to prepare your kava. Store dried kava powder in an airtight bag away from extremes of heat or moisture, and it should last about 3-6 months. Even better, if stored in a vacuum bag in the freezer, dried kava powder can last indefinitely!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “I was so drunk on kava last night I…” The Traveling Editor Blog. Accessed May 14th, 2014. http://www.thetravellingeditor.com/i-was-so-drunk-on-kava-last-night-i/.

2. “How to Use Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Accessed May 14th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-how-to-use.html.

3. “Fresh Kava Root.” Buy Kava Direct. Last modified August 3rd, 2012. http://buykavadirect.com/fresh-kava-root/.

4. Kealoha, Makaira. “How Do I Use the Whole Kava Root and Kava Root Chips?” Makaira’s Kava Blog. Last modified August 7th, 2012. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/ask-makaira/how-do-i-use-whole-kava-root-and-kava-root-chips/.

Kava kava on the Uprise!

Buy Kava Lately there’s been a lot of very wonderful news circulating the web about kava kava. Overall it seems to be the case that the many wonders of Kava are spreading through North America and are continuing to be a healthy socioeconomic presence in the South Pacific and elsewhere around the world.

In terms of Western Kava bliss, and spreading Kava excitement – the owners of Square Rüt, a Kava bar in Austin, Texas – are proud to announce that they are opening another bar! Scott Pingel – a co-owner of Square Rüt – has announced that they will be opening another Square Rüt location at 51st and Burnet Rd. in Austin. There is some talk that the owners may even consider opening a third Kava bar in the very near future [1]! This exciting announcement is coming just over a month after the news of a Kava bar opening in Boone, North Carolina. What does this tell us!? Kava and kava kava bars are spreading through North America and North Americans are enjoying the many healthy benefits of Kava more and more!!

“It’s going to totally relax every muscle in your body, but keeps your mind alert and focused, so there’s no buzz nor type of impairment, total relaxation”, said Scott Pingel in an interview with Kvue [1].

In terms of Kava news out of the South Pacific, there’s a Vanuatu update that helps to offset the foul taste left in our mouths after receiving the bad news out of Fiji last month. There was a bit of a scare when it was announced that Fijian authorities are attempting to put restrictions on Kava use in the island communities. This is a restriction that will greatly affect the Fijian agricultural population. The Fijian Times recently posted a story about a woman, Katarina Naviri, whose sole income is in Kava farming. Katarina and her family have had great success in Kava farming and should the ban go through it will likely greatly affect Katrina’s family as well as many other Fijian families in a similar situation [3]. It’s still unclear if this Fijian government restriction will be going through, but fortunately there has recently been some good news out of Vanuatu to offset this Fijian scare.

The following quote headlined a broadcast by Radio New Zealand International: “The Vanuatu Government is re-structuring the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board into a more farmer-focused, innovative and transparent institution [2].”

The broadcast goes on to tell us that the Vanuatu Digest – a news platform out of Vanuatu – informs the public that these policy changes are being made in an attempt to totally wipe out agricultural poverty in the island by 2016 [2].

While this is only a couple of years away, it’s not impossible given the incredibly high density of Vanuatu Kava farmers and farmers of other commodities with a high international demand; commodities like cocoa beans and copra [2]. Vanuatu is actually one of the top sources of Kava trade throughout the South Pacific and internationally, so it’s an incredible relief to know that at least some of the South Pacific islands are making an attempt to retain Kava farming tradition and socioeconomic stability.

While I’m still nervously awaiting an update on the Fijian policy recommendations with regard to Kava consumption in the islands, I am nonetheless overjoyed to get wind of the most recent international Kava news. Kava kava is clearly on an uprise around the world, with Kava bars spreading throughout the United States, and the South Pacific islands continuing to traditionally farm and trade the Piper methysticum root – or, the Kava root of happiness.

REFERENCES:

1. Green, Shelton. “Kava Bar Seeing Major Success in South Austin”. Kvue.com, April 30, 2014. Online:http://www.kvue.com/news/editors-pick/257445851.html

2. Radio New Zealand International. “PGN Govt says SDP Board Removal of Govt Representation Illegal”. Last Updated: April 30, 2014. Online:http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/242975/png-govt-says-sdp-board-removal-of-govt-representation-illegal

3.Sauvakacolo, Siteri. “Katarina’s Kava Success”. The Fiji Times, Friday May 02, 2014. Online:http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=267287