Where Can I Buy Kava?

This is where we review various websites and their Kava Kava products.  Our focus is Kava root, but we have tried every kava product from every website we can find, and post what we think.  We accept no donations or solicitations from any website that sells Kava, and if we have a bad experience with any Kava site, we will always try a second and a third time before making any final judgement on the experience and the quality of Kava on that particular website.
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Where Can I Find a Kava Bar?

We have a vastly easier INTERACTIVE KAVA BAR MAP instead of this dull, static list below.  Visit that page instead; and if you’re a Kava Bar, let us know and we’ll add you immediately!

United States Kava Bars

  • Los Angeles, CA – Kava Shack
  • Cave Junction, OR – Commune I Tea
  • San Diego, CA – Kava Lounge
  • Rancho Cordova, CA- The Root of Happiness Kava Bar
  • Santa Cruz, CA – Luminescence Day Spa, Kava Bar and Tea Room
  • Boca Raton, FL – Nakava
  • Hollywood, FL – Mystic Water Kava Bar & Yoga Studio
  • West Palm Beach, FL – Purple Lotus Kava Bar and Kavasutra
  • St. Petersburg, FL – Bula Kafe
  • Deerfield Beach, FL – Kahuna ‘Awa Bar
  • Tarpon Beach, FL – Sawgrass Tiki Bar
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL – Fiji Kava Bar
  • Hilo, HI – Bayfront Coffee, Kava and Tea
  • Hiwa, HI – Kava Kafe
  • Kailua-Kona, HI – Kanaka Kava Bar
  • Pahoa, HI – Uncle Robert’s Kava Bar/’Awa Club
  • Boone, NC – Noble Kava
  • Asheville, NC – Vanuatu Kava Bar
  • Wilmington, NC – Kat 5 Kava Bar
  • Ithaca, NY – Mystic Water Kava Bar & Yoga Studio
  • Portland, OR – Bula Kava House
  • Austin, TX – SquareRüt Kava Bar

Worldwide Kava Bars

  • United Kingdom – Kava Pub

This is just a partial list of the Kava Bars that are listed on the Interactive Map! Simply zoom in and click around; you’ll discover just how many Kava Bars there actually are in the world! And, the exciting part is, is that the number of Kava Bars began to grow exponentially in 2016. This is exciting news, as Kava.Guru is all about spreading the love and word of Kava as far and wide as possible.

New Kava Business Ventures Launching in Fiji!

New Kava Business Ventures Launching in Fiji!Aloha, kava lovers! I am excited to bring news of three kava-centric business ventures that just launched in Fiji that are dedicated to expanding the market for Fijian kava worldwide! Fiji’s reputation for high-quality kava precedes it among the kava-loving community, where many find it to have a smoother, less biting flavor than Vanuatu kava while sacrificing none of kava’s pleasurable properties. However, surprising though it may be, few Fijian kava sellers have found a way to peddle their products directly to the international market, outside the few tourists who come upon Fiji’s local kava scene. Strict bans on kava, notably in the EU and Australia, have carved a divot into the profits local Fijians could have been making from kava, and have subjected many South Pacific countries to undue economic hardship from the early 2000s up to as recently as this year.

Luckily, those dark days seem to be receding ever faster behind us, dear readers! One of the omens of better days ahead for the kava market in Fiji is the recent announcement of three new Fijian business ventures centered around the production, branding, and international export of homegrown Fijian kava! Woohoo!

The first bit of news I want to share with you concerns a new Fiji company called South Pacific Elixirs Limited. Operating out of the region of Ovalau with a $130,000 grant from the Fijian government, South Pacific Elixirs will soon start producing a kava supplement beverage made from locally grown kava root. Officials hope that export of this new product will boost the economy of Ovalau, a highland region that relies on kava farming for a big portion of its GDP. Although the drink processing facility is currently located in Australia, the owners soon hope to establish a processing facility in Fiji. They cited this project as an opportunity to educate kava farmers about best growing and harvesting practices, and also to identity kava strains that are appropriate for export.

The beverage, called Taki Mai from a Fijian phrase meaning “serve me now”, combines an extract of pure freeze-dried kava root reconstituted with filtered water and either pineapple, mango, or guava juice. According to the site, its kava has a smooth, almost milky taste that blends well with water and lacks the bitter elements of, say, Vanuatu kavas. Furthermore, when you buy Taki Mai drinks, you’re getting a single-origin kava beverage: unlike many other bottled kava drinks, which are made from a blend of different kava strains, here you know you’re getting a pure Fijian kava straight from the small highland farmers of Ovalau, who directly profit from your purchase. Even cooler is that South Pacific Elixirs has partnered with the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, to develop standardized cold-water extraction and total kavalactone testing methods for their kava supplements. As their FAQ section states, “the aim was to create a kava beverage that used traditional, authentic ways to deliver a consistent and predictable relaxation effect with every serving.” That makes me want to go out and order some right now!

Next we have David Gilmour—the entrepeneur who founded the Fiji Water company and also runs the Wakaya Club and Spa—jumping on the kava business bandwagon with a new locally grown Fiji kava he plans to export to the world market. Gilmour is already the proprietor of organic pink ginger and turmeric farmed from the Wakaya highlands; this new kava product looks set to be the third in his trifecta of organic Wakaya Origins herbal supplements, and will be locally sourced from several regions of Fiji and processed at Wakaya to remove stems, leaves, and root peel. Wakaya Origins kava supplements were originally sold only in Fijian cities, but are slated to be available on the world market this month.

Finally, a brief piece from the Fiji Times Online caught my eye with news that kava growers in the region of Kadavu, Fiji, are making plans in concert with the Kadavu Provincial Council to brand and sell Kadavu kava abroad! According to Provincial Council Chairman Ratu Seci, kava (yaquona in Fijian) is a prime source of GDP in Kadavu, along with taro. Though he did not name names, the chairman also mentioned that a few international kava vendors are in the habit of labeling their kava “Kadavu kava” when it is not actually from Kadavu. Tsk tsk! Then, I suppose that goes to show just what a reputation Kadavu kava has in Fiji, and that reputation is soon to expand to the global stage once Kadavu starts exporting its excellent kava. I wish good luck to all three Fijian kava business ventures, and look forward to sampling their kava in the near future!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

“Kava Supplement Boosts Local Economy”. Fiji Times Online. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=275729.

Valemei, Ropate. “New Kava Product”. Fiji Times Online. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=277824.

Naleba, Mere. “Council to Concentrate on Product Branding”. Fiji Times Online. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=284711.

Melo Melo Kava Bar Opening in Berkeley!

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Joy of Kava Coming out of Malaita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

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

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

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

4. Wikipedia. “Malaita”.

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

 

Are Kava Tea Bags Effective?

Dear Kava Guru,

Are kava tea bags any good?

Doug,

Salem,

MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Is Kava Better Fresh?

Dear Kava Guru,

Is Kava better fresh?

Karen,

Wichita, KS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

Kava Bar Now in Boone

Kava Recipe - Coconut Milk Kava

Kava bars made a landing in the United States of America back in 2002 with the opening of Nakava, located in Boca Raton, Florida [2]. These Kava bars are places where people can go to relax with friends while enjoying a Kava beverage or one of the many other Kava supplement options offered. People who have been invested in Kava culture and want to share the love with others tend to be the people that open and run these bars. And I am pleased to announce that the joys of Kava are spreading!

The proud owners of Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville, North Carolina are once again in the mood for sharing Kava love and culture. They’re opening a second Kava bar in Boone, North Carolina! The bar is to be called “Noble Kava” – certainly a very appropriate title for such a noble business [1].

The owner Andrew Procyk testifies to the benefit of Kava over alcohol and explains that he’s on a mission to offer a Kava alternative to students in North Carolina college towns.

“Our target area is 18 to 21 year olds who are adults, but unable to do most of what there is to do in a college town…The community benefits through this swiping out of alcohol, and it gives you a happy, friendly and relaxing feeling,” says Procyk in an interview with Mountain Times [1].

Procyk explains how back when he first got the idea of opening a Kava bar in North Carolina – his idea was triggered by a conversation he had with a college campus security guard. The security guard told him how all of the cases of rape, break-ins and assaults almost always involved alcohol. Procyk realized something had to change and that the students needed a healthy alternative to alcohol [1].

While the bar’s primary focus is of course Kava beverages, it will be offering Gatorade, coconut water and other hydrating options – to balance out the dehydrating effects of drinking Kava. The bar will also offer other Kava options and water-based soluble extracts that are intended  to add to the overall experience [1].

Procyk has been a dedicated advocate of Kava culture for quite some time. He is so dedicated to the spreading of Kava appreciation that he was the sole vendor at an international symposium on the subject in Fiji, and was mentioned in several Fijian publications for his wealth of knowledge on the subject [1].

We can only pray to the Kava spirits that the opening of Noble Kava is the continuation of an ongoing process of Kava love and growth!

Sources:

1. Campbell, Jesse. “Noble Kava Establishes Roots in Boone”. Last updated, March 27, 2014: http://mountaintimes.com/watauga-news/articles/Noble-Kava-establishes-roots-in-Boone-id-025151

2. Nakava. “A Real Kava Bar has arrived in North America”. Online: http://www.nakava.com

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.

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