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.

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.

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/.

Does Kava Affect Reaction Time?

Dear Kava Guru,
Does Kava affect reaction time?
Andrew, Seattle, WA

There have actually been quite a number of studies regarding reaction times with Kava on its own, when combined with benzodiazepines, and even alcohol.  The results are quite interesting, and definitely score another clear victory for Kava.

First, in 1993, a group of researchers investigated the effects of kava extract, a benzodiazepine (a general group of anti-anxiety drugs), and a placebo on behavior and event-related potentials in a word-recognition memory task.  The task was structured as a memory task designed as a double-blind crossover study in 12 healthy volunteers.  In the word-recognition test, oxazepam elicited “a pronounced slowing of reaction time and a reduction in the number of correct responses… observed.”  Wow.  They go on to further state, “The behavioral indices indicated a greatly impaired performance after oxazepam and an enhanced memory performance following kava.”[1]  Wow again!

Across the board, kava not only did not decrease reaction time, it was shown to improve reaction time in word-recognition tasks.

Also in 1993, a group of researchers assigned 24 subjects (11 male, 13 female) to receive a drink consisting of kava and fruit juice.  The drink containted 500 mL of 0.2 g/mL kavalactone, blended with 500 mL of fruit juice.  The test group was subjected to a wider range of tests that included cognitive performance, physiological functions, and mood.  No differences were found between the kava drinkers and the control group in measurements of various psychological parameters, including respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.  Although what was not measured is what was most interesting, the researchers did conclude that kava, at least at the above dose, does not impair one’s cognitive functioning[2].

As a third example to present you with, there was a study conducted in 1989 by Saletu and co-workers.  The purpose of their study was to measure the physiological effects of kavain, a main kavalactone in kava, on brain activity compared to the benzodiazepine drug clobazapam [3]. In this placebo-controlled double-blind study, 15 healthy volunteers received single oral doses of either an inactive placebo, 30mg of clobazapam, or synthetic kavain at either 200, 400, or 600mg [3].

The researchers recorded the subjects’ EEG (electroencephalogram, a measure of brain wave activity) and other psychophysiological measures every 2 hours for 8 hours during each study session. The EEGs showed that, though kavain exerted a significant effect on brain waves, it modulated this activity differently than the clobazapam; specifically, the kavain increased delta, theta and alpha waves while decreasing beta waves (the clobazapam showed the opposite effect)[3].

Even more encouragingly, the psychophysiological tests given by the researchers determined that subjects who had taken the kavain showed behavioral improvements in attention, reaction time, motor reflex, and intellectual performance. The people in the kavain group also noted improvements in mood, alertness and feelings of well-being after taking 200mg of kavain. The 600mg dose produced greater sedation, but still less than the clobazapam [3].

The last example I’ll offer is a study in 1987 by a team of researchers led by Russell [4].  The purpose of their study was to assess the effects of a low dose of kava on alertness, as well as the speed of accessing information from long-term memory. Posner’s letter-recognition task was used to measure the speed and accuracy of long-term memory access: subjects have to press a button within a time limit to indicate whether a pair of letters appearing on a screen is identical to a previous pair, the same sequence in a different font, or a different letter pair [4].

Russell’s study involved two rounds of testing. In the first, 9 healthy subjects (5 male, 4 female) were given 250ml of water infused with 30g of kava root and tested against a control group given no kava. the Posner test was then repeated a few days later with the same experimental group, this time given 500ml of water infused with kava at a rate of 1g/kg of body weight [4].

And surprise, surprise… the researchers reported no differences in speed of long-term memory access or error rate between the control group and the people who had taken kava! In their conclusion, they wrote the result demonstrated that kava acts to induce relaxation without impairing memory, reaction time or mental focus–indeed, [3] and [1] show mental focus actually improves with kava. So you can imbibe your kava with confidence, knowing that not only will kava not impair reaction time, it can actually benefit it!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES:

1. Münte, T.F. Heinze, H.J., Matzke, M. and Steitz, J. (1993). “Effects of oxazepam and an extract of kava roots (Piper methysticum) on event-related potentials in a word-recognition task. Neuropsychobiology 27: 46-53.

2. Prescott, J., Jamieson, D., Emdur, N., and Duffield, P. (1993). Acute effects of kava on measures of cognitive performance, physiological function, and mood. Drug and Alcohol Review 12: 49-58.

3. Saletu, B., Grünberger, J., and Linzmayer, L. (1989). EEG-brain mapping, psychometric and psychophysiological studies on central effects of kavain–A kava plant derivative. Human Psychopharmacology 4: 169-190.

4. Russell, P.N., Bakker, D., and Singh, N.N. (1987). The effects of kava on alerting and speed of access of information from long-term memory.  Bulletin of Psychonomic Society 25: 236-237.

Can I Combine Kava Root?

Dear Kava Guru,

What can and can’t I combine Kava with?

Dan, Reno, NV

This is a question I get asked so often, and it’s a wonder at how much literature there is on the topic. Well, if you think about it, ‘Kava combinations’ is quite a broad topic, since the combinations of interest can range from herbal to pharmaceutical and everything in between! So, there’s a lot of information here – and I’ve done my best to break it down and pick out the most important Kava combinations from the masses of research that there are on various combinations with Kava and their interactions. If you don’t see your combinations of interest here – go ahead and summon my guru wisdom. How can you summon my wisdom? By simply asking!

Herbal Combinations:

Naturally, many people instinctively combine other medicinal herbs with kava kava, thinking something along the lines of “Hey it’s all natural – why not throw it all together and reap multiple benefits!”   But, it’s important to realize that- as with Kava – many medicinal herbs have biochemical interactions with the body that could alter the functioning of enzymes, hormones, or other biochemical components of the body. For example, Kava inhibits the CYP 450 enzymatic pathway, and as a result any herbal treatment that is metabolized by these enzymes cannot be properly metabolized and there may be resultant health risks [5]. It’s possible then that certain chemical reactions or states might not mix well with each other. As a result – it’s always wise to err on the side of caution and do a bit of research before combining Kava with other herbs or plants. So, to help you out I’ve put together some of my own research with regard to combining Kava and other popular herbal remedies.

Sedatives: (lavender, passionflower, valerian, chamomile, hops)

The general consensus within the field of herbal interactions is that you will experience a heightened sedative effect when combining any other herbal sedative with Kava; this is an effect that may or may not be desirable [1, 3, 6].   Since Kava is in some way also a sedative and acts on the same enzymatic pathways – the two naturally coincide. In terms of safety there isn’t really any information with regard to Kava and herbal mixture health concerns or precautions. But, nonetheless you should always research your combination of interest or ask a health practitioner.

Passiflora (Passionflower): One study directly monitored the effect of passionflower and Kava alone and in combination.   The results indicated that there was a doubling effect, meaning that the combination of the two increased the effect of each individually by 50%.  The study demonstrated that in terms of sedative effects, there was a 91.6% prolongation of sleep duration when the combination of kava kava and passionflower was administered [3].

Valerian: There was an extensive study conducted on the effects of Kava and Valerian independently and combined with each other. The results indicated heightened levels of stress reduction and anxiety alleviation in three categories: social, personal and life events. Also, there was a significant improvement with subjects experiencing insomnia – ie. insomnia was decreased. One of the most common effects indicated by the subjects who took the combination of Kava and Valerian was vivid dreaming [8].

Stimulants: (coffee, kola nut, máte, guaraná)

Unfortunately, there isn’t too much information available with regard to the safety of combining Kava with herbal stimulants or their interactions. But, generally speaking, it’s unwise to combine kava kava with any herbal stimulant, and probably any synthetic stimulant as well. Quite generally – it’s unwise and counterproductive to combine stimulants and sedatives, because of their counteractions on the same or relatively similar biochemical compounds [6]. If you’re looking for something to calm you down, you take a sedative — you don’t want to then take a stimulant and undo what you’re trying to accomplish.

For example, coffee and Kava probably interfere with each other and their relative performance. It’s quite possible that Kava aggravates dopamine or dopamine receptors, meaning that it interferes with its release [2]. If this is the case, then something like coffee – a natural substance that stimulates the release of dopamine [7] – will naturally compete with Kava because each is trying to do a different thing to your biochemical system.

Combination with Alcohol:

Ahhh, now to discuss the single most commonly searched Kava combination – alcohol and Kava. I won’t go into too much detail here, as I’ve unloaded much of my wisdom on another post with regard to combining alcohol and Kava; I’ve posted the link below.

But, I will say very generally that although people often combine Kava and alcohol and have remained alive to tell the story – it isn’t necessarily very safe or wise to do so. There are several studies on the combination of Kava and alcohol and the general consensus of all of these studies is that you should never combine Kava and alcohol, as the combination of the two greatly increases your chance of hepatotoxicity (toxicity of the liver).

Besides, why not just drink Kava instead of alcohol altogether? Many people actually prefer to drink Kava over alcohol – given that it has very similar effects, and is generally considered to be a nonaddicting and healthy alternative to drinking alcohol.

More Information on Combining Alcohol and Kava

Pharmaceutical Drug Interactions:

In the case of Kava combinations with pharmaceutical drugs – it is imperative that you seek medical advice from a practitioner or at least do some research on the interaction of the two substances. Yadhu N. Singh suggests that pharmaceutical interactions could be the most significant of the Kava combinations. Kavalactones – the beneficial compounds in Kava – inhibit cytochrome P 450 (CYP 450) [5]. CYP 450 is an enzyme that acts as a catalyst in the process of oxidizing organic substances. However, most importantly, it is a major enzyme category used by the body for the metabolization of drugs [8].   Given that these enzymes are inhibited by Kava, Kava may then prevent the body from properly metabolizing pharmaceutical drugs [5]. As a result it is extremely important that you do your research before combining Kava with any pharmaceutical drug. I’ve put together some information on the most common Kava and pharmaceutical interactions – hopefully you’ll find your answers!

Central Nervous System Agents (Benzodiazepines): Given that Kava and Benzodiazepines act on the same CNS receptors, it is likely that the combination adds to the effects caused individually by each and/or has at least a synergistic pairing with each other (ie. increases the effects of each substance). Also, Kava will add to the drowsiness that is stereotypically experienced by those who use benzodiazepines [2].

Anesthetic Agents: Kava is actually considered to be an anesthetic itself and has been reported to have muscle relaxant effects as well as inducing numbness. Since anesthetics are intended to essentially do exactly the same thing – relax and numb muscles/tissues – there will inevitably be synergistic effects and Kava will prolong and intensify the effects of the anesthetic [2]. It’s actually recommended to not ingest Kava before going in for surgery for precisely the reason mentioned above – that there will be an interference with the functioning of the pharmaceutical anesthetics that you will be given [1].

Analgesics or Painkillers (Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, Percocet): There is an increased chance of liver damage or hepatotoxicity and kidney damage when Kava and pharmaceutical painkillers are taken simultaneously.   As a result it is simply wise to avoid this combination [2].

Diuretics (acetazolamide, amiloride, furosemide and ACE inhibitors such as benazepril, captopril, lisinopril, quinapril and ramipril): Kava is a diuretic itself and also does cause dehydration, so if Kava is combined with pharmaceutical or herbal diuretics it will likely add to the effects and increase dehydration [10, 1].

Psychoactive Drugs (Xanax): While there is one reported case of coma induction, which is possibly linked to the combination of Kava with Xanax [4], it is nonetheless unclear what the exact biochemical interaction is like.

Dopamine agonists/antagonists (Xanax, prozac, droperidol, haloperidol, risperidol, metoclopramide, and other antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications): As was mentioned above in relation to coffee – Kava is reported to be an antagonist of dopamine; meaning, Kava inhibits dopamine receptors and transmitters. As a result Kava can either act as an additive to the effects of pharmaceutical dopamine antagonists or an inhibitor in the case of the combination with dopamine agonists [1].

As you can see there are a TON of possible interactions that Kava may have with herbal and plant-based remedies or pharmaceutical medications. If your health is as important to you as it is to us – then hopefully you have read this article and are doing further research on the particular Kava combination you have in mind. If you don’t see information on the Kava combination you seek to gain knowledge about, please do ask me! My guru wisdom is pretty much endless when it comes to many topics and I would love to share as much as possible with my readers – but of course sometimes it’s not possible to cover everything. That’s where you come in! I love to get some direction from my readers telling me what it is exactly they want to know about. In the meantime, I hope that this has helped!

A few quick tips to remember:

 – It is unwise to combine Kava with alcohol – rather, use Kava as a healthy alternative!

– Always consult a physician when wanting to combine Kava with a pharmaceutical drug.

–  Kava acts on CYP 450 enzymes, as do many herbal and pharmaceutical remedies – so, be careful when combining them! These enzymes metabolize some herbs and medicines, so Kava could interfere with the metabolization process or have other undesirable biochemical interactions.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

 Sources:

1. Basch, Bent, Boon, Ernst, Hammerness, Sollars, Tsourounis, Ulbricht, Jen Woods. “Safety review of kava (Piper methysticum) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration”. Natural Standard Research Collaboration, 2005. Vol. 4 (4), p. 779-794.

2. Bressler, Rubin. “Herb-drug interactions: interactions between Kava and prescription medications”. Advanstar Communications, INC, September 2005. Vol. 60 (9), p. 24.

3. Capasso, A and Sorrentio, L. “Pharmacological studies on the sedative and hypnotic effect of Kava kava and Passiflora extracts combination”. Phytomedicine, 2005. Vol 12, p. 39-45.

4. Graedon, Joe and Graedon Teresa. “Herb Interaction Could Lead to Coma”. Tribune Publishing Company LLC, February 21, 1999.

5. Singh, N. Yadhu. “Potential for interaction of kava and St. John’s wort with drugs”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, May 18, 2005. Vol. 100, p. 108-113.

6. Stuart, Armando Ph. D. “Kava Kava”. 2005. Online: http://www.herbalsafety.utep.edu/herbs-pdfs/kava.pdf

7. Wenk, Gary Ph. D. “Why Does Coffee Make us Feel so Good?” Psychology Today – Your Brain on Food, October 28, 2011. Online: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201110/why-does-coffee-make-us-feel-so-good

8. Wheatley, David. “Stress-induced insomnia treated with kava and valerian: singly and in combination”. Human Psychopharmacology, 2001. Vol. 16, p. 353-356.

9. Wikipedia. “Cytochrome p450”. Last updated, April 28, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytochrome_P450

10. Wong, Cathy ND. “Kava Kava”. About.com – Alternative Medicine. Last Updated, April 08, 2014. Online: http://altmedicine.about.com/od/kava/p/kava.htm

 

What is Kava Root?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is Kava Root?

This is difficult to believe, but it was pointed out to me recently that I’ve never actually addressed the most basic of questions regarding something as simple as what exactly Kava root is.  It’s further evidence that the obvious is what often escapes me, but I will make up for that oversight by shedding some light on my favorite plant in the world!

Kava root is of course, first and foremost – a root – the root of the Piper methysticum plant. But, just what does this mean on a broader basis? Well, below are a few personal insights as to what Kava root is in its entirety, right down to its bio-constitution.

Kava Root Overview:

First off, it’s important to realize that when people refer to commercial Kava or Kava supplements more generally – they are referring to the root of the Kava plant. The other parts of the plant or aerial parts (parts above ground – not including the lateral root) are absolutely no good to us! The leaves, stem, and other sub-components of these upper parts of the Kava plant are actually hazardous to our health, as they can be poisonous [5]. It’s quite possible that these other parts of the plant are the source of the problems indicated by infamous cases of Kava and liver toxicity. There have been reported cases of Kava causing liver toxicity – cases that have since been proven to be unsubstantiated – and it’s quite possible that Kava was actually misused in these cases [4]. So, remember when discussing Kava as a supplement that is ingested, we are referring only to the Kava root and not to the entire plant. The dried Kava root used to produce Kava root powder has the highest kavalactone content at 15% of its constitution, while the rest of the root is made up of starch, fibers, sugars and proteins – which are all good things [7].

Rootstock Anatomy – Lateral vs. Underground Root:

Plant roots are composed of various parts and all plants have roots of some kind, which are responsible for many biological functions, but are primarily for nutrient and water uptake. Some vascular plants, including Piper methysticum (Kava or ‘Awa), have both lateral or aerial (above ground) roots and underground roots [6]. The lateral roots can serve many purposes, including nutrient reception from the air or even aeration of the plant.

While it is known that these lateral roots start to develop after Piper methysticum’s initial three-year maturation [3], the exact purpose of the lateral roots are unclear. However, my guru senses lead me to believe that it is likely that the aerial roots allow the plant to gain certain nutrients from sun exposure that it wouldn’t other wise have access to if all of its roots were underground. The reason I speculate this is that the amount of kavalactones in the lateral roots are increased upon sun exposure – indicating that increased sun does interact with the lateral root chemistry in some way [2, p. 40].

Given that the sun-drenched aerial roots of the Kava plant are brimming with kavalactones (more so than the underground roots), the most potent/strongest Kava is made from these lateral roots. Kavalactones are the compounds in a Kava plant that are to be thanked for all of the wonderful benefits and pleasurable outcomes of having a Kava root beverage [1] – so, it’s no wonder that processes of cultivation have led us to be more attracted to the potent aerial roots!

Although underground roots are also used in the production of Kava supplements and are more abundant than the lateral roots [3] – they aren’t the best option when it comes to choosing what Kava supplements you would like to take. There are a host of reasons as to why the lateral roots are used more often. For one, underground roots are less potent, as mentioned above. Additionally, they are more difficult to harvest. Furthermore, on more of a tragic vein – much of the plant must be destroyed in order to get at the underground roots [3]. Why would we want to destroy a plant to get at the less beneficial parts, when we could just snip away at the lateral roots and get a higher quality Kava root? We wouldn’t! That’s why the highest quality and morally intact Kava supplement you can get is from the lateral Kava root, while the underground root is used in the cheaper, lower-quality options.

Kava Variants:

Many years of cultivation and genetic pruning of the Piper methysticum plant have allowed it to travel and grow in regions of the planet that are best suited to its prime development. The wild version of Piper methysticumPiper wichmannii – hasn’t had the care and tender support of educated farmers and as a result tends to have lower amounts of kavalactones. This is why Hawaii has become known as a prime source of Kava root – it has all of the resources to cultivate and care for the highest quality of Kava [2, p. 40]!

Different varietals of the Piper methysticum plant have different levels and types of kavalactones, but the Hawaiian varietals – or the cultivars primarily used in growing Kava in Hawaii – have been developed over the years to have the highest quantity of potent kavalactones. There are three kavalactones in particular that Hawaiian cultivars are known for: kavain, methysticin, and dihydrokavain. And no wonder Hawaii is known for its Kava – those three kavalactones have been dubbed as the perfect concoction for “fast-acting and pleasant experiences” [2, p. 31]!

According to Wikipedia, “…one of the most potent strains of Kava is called ‘Isa’ in Papua New Guinea, and also called ‘Tuday’ in Hawaii. In Vanuatu, it is considered a type of ‘Tudei’ kava, pronounced as ‘two-day’ because it is said to have effects lasting two days due to its chemical profile being high in the kavalactone dihydromethysticin. The plant itself is a strong, very hardy, fast-growing variety with multiple light to dark green stems covered with raised dark spots.”

When it comes to kava, though, “most potent” certainly does not necessarily mean it’s the best.  If you’re curious to find out why, read some Facebook comments regarding this topic, the Kava Forums Tudei post with an opposing viewpoint, or a recent study regarding “Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root“.

What About Those Kavalactones?:

According to James A. Duke, “Phytochemicals called kavalactones produce kava’s stress-beating, muscle-relaxing influence.  Each produces a somewhat different physiologic effect in the body and all of them working together are better than any of them acting alone.” [8]

For someone who simply enjoys Kava as the best natural means I know of to calm my mind outside of meditation or surfing, what had intrigued me most about these mysterious kavalactones, are finding out which ones are most responsible for the pleasurable effects of Kava.  Many years ago, just some cursory digging in my favorite Kava books got me the answer I wanted and in detail, summarized below.

In 1989, the true guru of Kava; Vincent Lebot and J. Lésque and a subsequent paper entitled “The origin and distribution of Kava (Piper methysticum Forst. f., Piperaceae): A phytochemical approach”, they assigned numbers to the 6 major kavalactones.  As mentioned above, there are about 18 known lactones in Kava, but just 6 of these account for 90% of the total Kavalactone content, and subsequently, for most of the effects Kava produces.

These 6 major lactones are as follows:

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

These 6 numbers have become the accepted system for not only identifying the overall amounts of Kavalactones in relation to each other within a single sample of Kava Root, but the 6 digit code that is generated from a single Kava sample can also be used to identify its geographical location.  How?  Well, each region of the world produces a very unique cultivar of Kava due to it’s own unique weather patterns, sunlight intensities, soil composition, and even the elevation that the Kava plant grows.  All of these factors, including human propagation and selection over the past 3,000 years, gives Kava a distinct “fingerprint” that is extremely consistent in the Kavalactone content within that regions main cultivar of Kava.  And it’s the combination of the 6 major kavalactones that provide the range of effects.

One example of this is the Borogu Kava variety from the Islands of Vanuatu.  This particular variety is famous for its psychoactive effects throughout Oceania.  It has the 6-digit sequence of 245613, with dihydrokavain followed by kavain as its highest concentration kavalactone constituents [9].  Those seeking for “happy” kava, typically seek out the Vanuatu cultivar of Kava, and specifically the Noble Vanuatu variety.  “Noble” is a name that’s reserved for just a few cultivars of Vanuatu Kava.  They are prized for their excellent “drinkability” as well as the quite noticeable effects on the mind.  We know that Bula Kava House offers only Noble varieties of Vanuatu Kava, as does Kava Dot Com.

And In Closing:

Now you have more than a basic understanding of what the Kava root is when it comes to the drinking kind of Kava root. You also now know the important distinction between lateral root and underground root and can do your research on various vendors to determine which one has the highest quality of Kava as well as the Kava with the “Kavalactone lineup” that you prefer most.  If you choose to go with lower quality products that is, of course, up to you – but do remember that it’s always wise to be advised.  Whether you choose the Tudei Kava, go with a Noble Vanuatu cultivar, or find a Fijian Kava that, as Bula Kava House says offers “an inner warmth and mental bliss”, part of the joy of Kava and the many varieties found around the web is simply trying out as many as you can, and discovering your own ‘awa ‘uhane (Kava spirit) in the process!

Mahalo,
Kava Guru

Origins


The origins of the Piper Methysticum variety that most simply know as “Kava Kava”, may have derived from a different plant altogether, called Piper wichmannii.  Piper wichmannii is indigenous to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.  According the “Kava: The Pacific Elixir“, the argument has been made that there is “convincing morphological, checmical, and genetic grounds for considering these two taxa of Piper to be wild and cultivated forms of the same species.”  What exactly does that mean?  It means that Piper methysticum consists of several sterile cultivars (Kava does not reproduce sexually; it’s by cuttings only) cloned from P. wichimannii in a selection process throughout the early history of Kava Kava.  It appears that the psychoactive effects were what was most revered by early cultivators, so of course, the plants that produced the most pleasant and/or the strongest psychoactive effects, were the cultivars that were selected for cloning and subsequent transplanting.

Folklore


Evidence shows that the earliest kava consumption, always in the form of a drink, was more closely associated with ancestor worship.  Each morning, in the house of an ancestor known as a “būrau”, prepared kava as an offering to the village ancestors.  There were priests, so it was definitely a religious ritual of some kind, but evidence is scant for the early uses, partly due to the missionaries and conquerors attempting to completely obliterate the consumption of kava.  It was not only thought to be the “work of the devil”, it was deemed “unhygenic” because the method of preparation involves chewing the leaf, and spitting it out into a 4-legged bowl called a “tanoa”.

Traditional Preparation


According to Clunie and Tora at the FIji Museum in Suva (capital of Fiji), the practice of chewing the rootstock to prepare the kava drink was actually borrowed from Tonga in the late 1700′s.  Clunie also suggested that 18th century Christian Missionaries encouraged the move from Fijian preparation styles to the Polynesian style of pounding the root with rocks, adding it into water, and then filtering it through Hibiscus tiliaceus bark.  (The early Fijian style was to filter the kava through “bracken fern leaves held in a woven canister-like device.)

Sources:

1. Cassileth, Barrie, PHD.  “Oncology”. United Business Media LLC, San Francisco: April 15, 2011. Vol. 25-4 p. 384-385.

2. Johnston and Rogers, Helen. “Hawaiian ‘Awa: Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure”. Association for Hawaiian ‘Awa: Hilo, HI, 2006.

3. Kava Dot Com. “Kava Root”. Online: http://www.kava.com/?p=970.

4. Teschke, Rolf, MD. “Kava Hepatotoxicity: pathogenetic aspects and prospective considerations”. Liver International: October, 2010. Vol. 30-9, p. 1270-1279.

5. Whitton, Lau, Salisbury, Whitehouse and Christine S. Evans. “Kava Lactones and the Kava-Kava Controversy”. Pergamon: June 5, 2003. Phytochemistry (64) p. 673-679.

6. Wikipedia. “Root”. Last Updated, March 26, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root#Root_growth

7. Wikipedia. “Kava”. Last Updated, April 5, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#cite_note-5

8. Duke, James A. 2000. The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook: Your Comprehensive Reference to the Best Herbs for Healing.  Rodale Books.

9. Lebot, Vincent, Mark Merlin, and Lamont Lindstrom. 1992. Kava: The Pacific Drug. New Haven, Yale University Press.

I’m Pregnant – Can I Take Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

I’m pregnant, can I take Kava?

Marissa, Denver, CO

Dear Marissa,

This is quite a common question, and I will give you the stock answer first:  “The Kava Guru is not a doctor and cannot dispense medical advice.  Please seek the advice of your family doctor if you want to take Kava during your pregnancy.”

And now, the answer that has been gathered from doctor’s opinions, research papers, and stories taken directly from the people of Oceania who have used this amazing plant safely for thousands of years:

 Unfortunately, the short answer is that not enough is known about kava’s safety in pregnancy to recommend it. To give you a better idea of why this is, let’s take a look at kava kava’s common effects: kava is used as a sedative and anxiolytic because of its tranquilizing and antispasmodic properties. In other words, kava calms the central nervous system and also acts as a muscle relaxant. It has been suggested that kava’s relaxant properties could have a negative effect on uterine tone [1].

When questions of kava safety arise, the first thing to look at is the anecdotal evidence. Kava’s history stretches back thousands of years: in the South Pacific, the root has been used medicinally for pain relief, insomnia, urinary infections, and other conditions. According to Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, kava kava has also been used to help women more easily give birth and to correct displacement of the womb [4]. However, the book goes on to say that a combination of kava and other pepper species has also been used to induce miscarriage. In Hawaii and Polynesia, the kava leaf was used topically for the same purpose [4]. However, the Kava Guru would like to point out that kava leaf is known to be poisonous to humans. In contrast, the kava root has been proved safe for human consumption by thousands of years of traditional use.

The American Pregnancy Association has given kava a rating of possibly unsafe for use in pregnancy, mostly because there isn’t enough known about the effect of kavalactones on a developing baby. It isn’t known whether kavalactones can be transmitted to the fetus in the womb, and the same kavalactones that are perfectly harmless in an adult might still be harmful for fetuses whose livers and brains are developing [1]. Many prescription anti-anxiety medications such as Valium are listed as unsafe for use in pregnancy because they can harm the developing fetus [2].

It’s also possible that kava kava may weaken the muscles around the uterus, which could lead to miscarriage or premature delivery [3]. Finally, kava’s sedating effects could amplify the effect of anesthesia if a mother must be sedated during labor for any reason [2]. Physicians recommend that patients stop use of any herbal supplement with sedative effects (such as passionflower, valerian, or kava) 2 weeks before any medical procedure involving anesthesia.

While there are few definitive studies of kava’s safety in pregnancy, a good starting place for herbal safety in pregnancy can be found in this 2002 literature review [3]. Based on the research, it is the Kava Guru’s opinion that kava should not be used in pregnancy. In those times when anxiety or stress becomes an issue during pregnancy, it may be possible to consult a holistic health care practitioner about herbs that are definitively safe in pregnancy, or about other stress-busting techniques such as prenatal yoga and meditation that can help you feel calm and ready for this change.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. The American Pregnancy Association. “Herbs and Pregnancy”. Last modified January 2013. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/naturalherbsvitamins.html 

2. Livestrong.com. “Kava Kava and Pregnancy”. Last modified February 7th, 2014. http://www.livestrong.com/article/184996-kava-kava-pregnancy/

3. Ernst, E. March 2002. “Herbal medicinal products: are they safe during pregnancy?” British Journal of Gynaecology 109 (3): 227-235.

4. Bone, Kerry and Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine, 2nd ed. Churchill Livingstone, 2013: pg. 711.

 

 

Kava for Beginners – The Ultimate Guide to Kava

Dear Kava Guru,

I’m new to kava.  Do you have a Kava for Beginners Guide???

Ken, Cincinnati, OH

Kava for Beginners Ultimate GuideRequests for a Kava for Beginners Guide could be the question that Kava Guru gets asked more than the Where to Buy Kava question!  Not only are there are so many varieties of kava to pick from, there are so many forms of kava; from regular old powdered root, to instant kava mixes, to pills, capsules, dissolving strips and gum.  Let’s take a brief walk through each of the forms of kava first, to give you a better understanding of which kava might be the form you’ll choose for yourself. There are a couple of great guides I’ve borrowed some information from with permission of course if you want a further perspective on Kava:

Where Do I Begin With Kava? (Kava.com) | Kava Beginner’s Guide (Kava.com)

Which Type of Kava for Beginners?

What probably matters most to you in this moment, is simply this: Do I want powdered Kava root, instant Kava mix, Kavalactone Paste, Kava Tea, or Kava and Kavalactone Capsules? Any other form of Kava is going to be a variation on this theme, whether it’s in the form of Kava Singles, Kava Candy, strips, or whatever else people dream up as a delivery method for Kava. All you need to know to answer that seemingly complicated question is what are you looking for from your Kava experience?

  • TO RELAX/CHILL OUT – This is the most common reason people find their way to Kava. People are looking for a safer alternative to sometimes dangerous pharmaceuticals, or as an alterative to alcohol.  If you’re looking for a calming Kava experience, then your best bets would be any Kava that’s in a drink form, whether it’s Powdered Kava Root or Instant Kava Mix.
  • FOR ANXIETY RELIEF – This is perhaps one of the most effective uses for Kava.  Because it’s known as the anti-shyness herb, due to its inhibition-lowering effects, Kava is naturally suited to help fight anxiety.  In fact, we’ve got 20+ clinical studies on the powerful effects of Kava and anxiety.
  • FOR STRESS RELIEF – Anxiety is more of a long-term emotional issue.  Stress is more of an “in the moment” issue.  This can really be helped with taking a moment to simply slow down, take a step back, and take a deep, mindful breath.  What would be perfect for you is to force yourself to go through the process of making a “shell” of Kava the traditional way.
  • FOR PAIN RELIEF – Although we have to be extremely careful with how we discuss Kava as an effective aid to fight pain, I can’t stress enough how effective of a pain fighter Kava can be.  Especially for joint pain and lower back pain.  I have chosen Kava Tincture Plus over aspirin on several occasions.  Although Kava doesn’t have any anti-inflammatory properties to it, it’s an amazing aid for pain.  Also, after interviewing the folks over at Kava.com, I was told that lower back pain is when Kava for pain relief is most effective.
  • AS A SLEEP AID – Now here’s something that might turn some people off when looking for something natural to relax with, but let me make a quick, important distinction: Kava does not make you sleepy.  What Kava does do, is help you get into a state that can be conducive to sleep.  So, it’s often used as a sleep aid, and from my own personal experience — it can be an amazing one at that.  Personally, I blend some Valerian Root Capsules and Kava, in any form, and that makes for an unrivaled sleep combination.
  • AS A LEGAL HIGH – Let’s face it; we’re human, and humans are seeking ways to alter their consciousness.  Although “legal high” has gotten a very bad rap, it’s probably because we’re not being honest with ourselves.  Some who are looking for a Kava experience are looking to get kicked in the pants, and honestly, as long as you’re being responsible and not hurting anybody, then that’s your choice.  and, you should have the freedom to make that choice.  For you, let me say this: There is no such thing as an overdose from Kava.  Also, despite the bad press, there is no known link, according to the World Health Organization, between water-extracted Kava and liver damage.  So, for you, I have two great recommendations; Kava Tincture Plus and Kavalactone Paste 55%, both manufactured by Kona Kava Farm.
  • AS AN APHRODISIAC – This is a curious usage of Kava that has been hidden from the Western World.  When explorers first visited the Hawaiian islands way back in the days of Captain Cooke, one of the curious features of Hawaii was the yearly Summer Festival.  This celebration of life, love and nature took place when taxes were being collected, and the king was making his way through the people.  Kava was renown for lowering inhibitions, for inspiring the deeply meaningful, hip-gyrating Hula dance.  Any form of Kava can be a great aphrodisiac, simply because of its very nature.  Kava helps even the toughest customer relax.  It’s not known as the “anti-shyness” herb for nothing!  In addition, there is a curious product called KavaLOVEtone that was invented by Kona Kava Farm.  It’s not only a Kava-based aphrodisiac, it has additional ingredients such as Damiana that have been clinically-proven to increase blood flow to the genitals.  We’re not legally allowed to make any mention of Viagra and KavaLOVEtone Capsules in the same sentence, but it is definitely worth checking out.

For me, though, especially if you’re beginning your experiences with Kava, I think it’s best to immerse yourself in the spirit of Kava by going through the traditional preparation method.  For me personally; I think it’s the most desirable kava experience.  And that method simply uses powdered kava root. I like the fact that the whole energy of this ancient, and often sacred plant is preserved.  We like that ingesting kava this way is in alignment with the ancient traditions of Oceania [1]. Most of all, I like that the traditional method of working with kava has a 3000-year history of use to back up its effectiveness. While this form of kava requires a bit of preparation, as you will have to steep the powder in water and then strain it, I believe the effects and the connection to tradition are worth the effort.

Main Types of Kava Available

Of course, I understand that sometimes—sadly, perhaps most of the time in our 24/7 culture—there isn’t time to prepare kava the traditional way. Well, my Kava for Beginners – The Ultimate Guide to Buying Kava will not disappoint!  There are many kava products that cater to on-the-go relaxation. Let’s look at some of those below:

INSTANT KAVA DRINK MIXES: The closest in form to a traditional brew, instant kava powder can be mixed up in minutes and doesn’t require any straining or steeping time [2]. For some people, flavored instant mixes offer the added benefit of disguising the taste of kava. (Though the Kava Guru personally enjoys kava’s peppery, earthy flavor, many people find it takes some getting used to.) Make sure that any instant kava mix you’re considering is made with a kava root extract; plain kava root that hasn’t been extracted in some way will not be effective. One way to tell the difference is that a truly instant kava mix should dissolve completely in liquid without leaving a residue. Mix it up with water, fruit juice, or nut milk for delicious results!  There are Instant Kava Mixes and Instant Kava Singles available from Kona Kava Farm or Kava.com.

KAVA ROOT/KAVALACTONE CAPSULES: Another way to tastelessly get your kava dosage is in capsule or pill form [2]. Again, check to make sure the capsules are made with a kava root extract—this is a rule for any instant kava product. Kava capsules may contain either a powdered or a liquid kava extract (in liquigels). A quality kava vendor should also list the amount of kavalactones in the capsules, either as a percentage or in milligrams. Kavalactones are the relaxing constituents in kava root, and most research suggests that a dose of at least 70 milligrams is necessary to generate an effect[3].

There are 2 main types of Kava Capsules; Kava Root Only Capsules and Kavalactone 30% Capsules. It’s

While kava capsules generally aren’t as strong as a kava brew, they may be helpful for helping you cope with stressful situations such as demanding workdays and plane trips, and the capsule format means they can be taken easily and discreetly.

KAVALACTONE PASTE 55%: There aren’t many vendors who sell this concentrated paste extract, yet some “kavasseurs” absolutely swear by it! Kavalactone paste is a semi-liquid kavalactone extract with a yellowish color and the consistency of cake batter [2]. Kava pastes with a blend of select kavalactones and full-spectrum kavalactone pastes are both available on the market. The Kava Guru prefers full-spectrum pastes that contain a ratio of all the kavalactones and other active constituents in the kava root. In our opinion, full-spectrum kava pastes are best for those who want to access the whole energy of this healing plant. Kavalactone paste can be taken alone in small amounts or added to a kava brew as a “booster”—though we recommend waiting on this until you have experience with kava and know how it affects you.

KAVA TINCTURE/KAVA TINCTURE PLUS: There aren’t many reliable vendors for Kavalactone Tincture as this oily extracts does not blend well with water or alcohol.  We highly recommend the Kava Tincture Plus from Kona Kava Farm or Kava Tincture from Root of Happiness Kava, as both products have a verified 6% Kavalactone content.  Given that Kava root naturally has about 12% Kavalactone content in it, taking 2 dropperfuls (not drops) of either of the above Kava tinctures will give you a full on Kava experience, complete with a numbing effect on your mouth.  There are weaker versions of Kava Tincture for the timid, with about 3% Kavalactone content. Give that a try if you want to get a milder effect from your first Kava experiences.

The Weakest Forms of Kava

Kava Gum/Kava Strips: Both of these intruiging new kava products take advantage of kavalactones’ ability to be absorbed through the mucus membranes of the mouth. They’re also almost as easy to use as a kava capsule and just as discreet. Kava gum is essentially a gum infused with a kava root extract; it can be chewed to release the kavalactones into the mouth over a few minutes.  Kava strips, or K-strips as they are often called, are dissolvable strips of paper infused with a kava extract. They can be dissolved sublingually (under the tongue), or added to a warm beverage like your afternoon cup of tea…just make sure not to add these strips to liquid that is over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, as kavalactones are destroyed by higher temperatures.

Kava Tea: I didn’t include Kava tea in the main list of Kava types because Kava tea is barely Kava at all.  There is so little Kava in Kava Teas that we have not noticed much of an effect at all.  In fact, the folks over at Wonderland-Labs have tested all kinds of Kava, and have reportedly found only trace amounts of Kavalactone in the Kava teas they tested.

Kavalactone Lineups

One of the most basic bits of information you may want as our Kava for Beginners Guide winds down, is the Kavalactone percentage, and the Kavalactone lineup of your Kava.  Most mass marketed Kava from places like GNC have no idea what their true Kavalactone content or the Kavalactone lineup is.  Why does this even matter?  Well, for obvious reasons, the total Kavalactone content is relatively important.

One our favorite and fun ways to learn about Kava is over on YouTube, with a video called “Kavalactone Lineups”.  It is super entertaining, and just a few minutes long.  There’s no product plugs until the very end, and even then, it’s mild.  I’ve watched the video dozens of times, and it’s made a big difference in helping me to choose which Kava is best for me.  I think it would be a huge help for anyone who is a beginner with Kava, and is looking for some solid advice on how to proceed.

If it’s embedded correctly, there should be a video below:

Go Go Go, You Kava Guru!

No matter what form of kava you choose, always make sure the product is made using only the kava root and never the above ground stems or leaves, which are inedible and potentially poisonous.  Now that you’re not a Kava beginner any longer, just remember these few additional tips:

  • NO SUCH THING AS AN OVERDOSE – There is no such thing as an overdose for Kava.  If you happen to take too much Kava, you will not be able to operate heavy machinery (such as a car) for a while, and, you may just go to sleep for an hour or two.  If you are getting nervous that your heart rate is increasing too much, fret not, as that’s natural, and you are perfectly safe.
  •  NO LIVER DAMAGE– Despite the mountains of media hype, please believe the World Health Organization on this one rather than the media.  The World Heath Organization did their own study on Kava, which consisted of taking every bit of Kava data and clinical trials there were, and they arrived at conclusions based on 100+ case studies.  What did they conclude? – That there was absolutely no connection to liver damage when consuming water-based Kava extractions using roots only Kava.  High quality vendors such as Kava.com only carry products from verified vendors who wouldn’t dream of using anything other than pure Kava to any of their products.
  • HAVE FUN/BE RESPONSIBLE – Kava can be an immense joy, and is really meant to be shared.  Even if it’s one loved one or an entire group, Kava brings people together. It can make feelings of well-being arise in us, and it can have a lasting positive effect on our life.  Life is short, love as much as you can.  Kava can help!

Remember; which kava product you choose will depend a lot on how and where you want to use it. Do you want to relax with kava at the end of the day, inject some calm into a hectic workday, or use kava to soothe nerves on a long trip? When deciding which form of kava is right for you, your intention and the context for its use will guide you to the kind of kava that is right for you.  Hope this Kava for Beginner’s Guide was helpful. As always, let me know if you have any comments or suggestions to make it better, and I’ll add onto the article as needed.

Share the love, feel the joy, and let’s connect at the roots!

Mahalo & Aloha,
Keith Cleversley

REFERENCES

1. “Piper methysticum.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed February 28th, 2014.

2. “Kavalactones Dosage.” Kava.com. Accessed February 28th, 2014.

3. “True Kava Side Effects“. Kava.com. Accessed February 28, 2014.

4. “Where Do I Begin With Kava?” – Kava.com

5. “Kava Beginner’s Guide” – Kava.com

How Much Kava To Take?

Dear Kava Guru,

How much Kava is the right amount of Kava for a relatively healthy 185lb man in his 30’s?

Chris, Austin, TX

Kava dosage and how much kava you take has everything to do with the type of kava you’re taking, as well as your body type and weight.  To answer your questions, first, we always suggest following the directions on each individual package of kava that you purchase.  On that package, if it’s from a legitimate kava company or farm, will be the standard “Supplement Information” panel on the package, giving serving suggestions.

But I understand that these instructions don’t always cover you! This dietary supplement has so many methods of ingestion that it can get quite confusing quite quickly.  At least know that there is no single dangerous kava dosage.

First, there’s good old fashioned kava root.  This typically comes as a powder, and needs to be extracted. Most of the kava recipes we’ve found use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of powdered kava root to 1 cup of water [1]. Sometimes a vegetable fat is added, such as a teaspoon of soy lethicin or vegetable oil [3]. This will act as an emulfisier to help extract the kavalactones into the water. Alternatively, you can substitute some of the water for a fatty liquid such as coconut milk—one effective recipe calls for 2 cups of water and 1 cup of coconut or another nut milk. Since some kavalactones are soluble in fats and others in water, combining the two will help you make a stronger kava drink.

The usual serving of prepared kava in the South Pacific is 2 to 4 fluid ounces. Depending on how it’s prepared, a bilo (coconut shell bowl) of kava can contain anywhere from 150 to 500 mg of kavalactones, and indigenous islanders often consume several bilos in a kava drinking session [2]. In other words, although the Kava Committee has issued an advisory upper limit of 300 mg of kavalactones per day, many Pacific Islanders consume far higher doses of this wondrous plant daily without ill effects. If you’re planning to make kava the traditional way from powdered root, the Kava Guru suggests starting with the standard recipe and seeing how it works for you. You can always adjust the ratio of kava to water, and thus the strength of your brew, until you achieve a satisfying result.

I know that the imprecision of the traditional method will not appeal to everyone. If you want to know the precise amount of kavalactones in your serving of kava, consider a supplement that contains a kava extract, such as an instant drink mix, kavalactone paste, or capsule. For most people, the smallest effective dose of kavalactones is about 70 milligrams. One of the Kava Guru’s favorite kava-related blogs offers this rubric for determining how many milligrams of kavalactones to take: in general, 70-210mg of kavalactones is the average effective dose for reducing stress and anxiety [2]. Between 150 and 250 milligrams is more useful for addressing insomnia, especially if it is taken an hour to 30 minutes before bed [2].

Note that some kava supplements list kavalactones as a percentage rather than in milligrams. In this case, you’ll have to calculate the milligrams of kavalactones per serving based on the total number of grams or milligrams in one serving of the supplement. For instance, a kava capsule that is 30% kavalactone will contain 30mg of kavalactone per 100mg of material. To reach the average threshold dose of 70mg of kavalactone, you must take 230 mg of the supplement. However, should you choose a supplement that combines kava with other relaxing herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, or valerian, the required dosage of kavalactones may be less because the other herbal ingredients will contribute to the supplement’s relaxing effects.

It’s true that every body is different, and you may find yourself needing a larger (or smaller) kava dosage for satisfying effects. Where it gets tricky is that kava can sometimes have reverse tolerance, meaning that the new kava drinker won’t feel any effects the first few times they try kava [2]. Some people interpret reverse tolerance to mean that kava doesn’t work on them. The Kava Guru’s advice is to be patient with kava, as reverse tolerance usually goes away after a few kava sessions. With patience and a little experimentation, the Kava Guru is confident you will find the right amount of kava for your individual constitution.

Mahalo,
Keith

REFERENCES

1. “Kava Recipes for Kava Drinks.” Kona Kava Farm. Accessed March 4th, 2014. www.konakavafarm.com/recipes.html.

2. “Kavalactones Dosage”. Kava.com. Accessed March 4th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=587.

3. “Kava Brew Recipe”. The Vaults of Erowid. Last modified February 5th, 2011. https://www.erowid.org/plants/kava/kava_recipe1.shtml.