Indian PM Honored with Kava Ceremony in Fiji

Indian PM Honored with Kava Ceremony on Visit to FijiAloha and Happy New Year from the Kava Guru! As we head into the first month of 2015, I thought this might be an excellent time to highlight some interesting “firsts” in the kava world. A recent news piece I’d like to share with you covered the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fiji—the first Indian PM to visit Fiji in over 30 years. And how did Fiji locals greet Mr. Modi after so much time? With a kava ceremony, of course!

The Fiji Islands are home to an ethnically diverse population of about 827,000 people. That includes about 37% percent Indo-Fijians, people of primary Indian or mixed Indian and Fijian descent. Kava is consumed across cultures in Fiji: among Fiji’s native iTaukei people, Indo-Fijians, and other ethnic minorities. Despite its large Indian population, until Modi’s visit it had been 33 years since then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid a diplomatic visit to Fiji in the 1980’s. Narendra Modi visited Fiji as part of a diplomatic tour that also included stopovers in Myanmar and Australia.

According to reports, Modi was welcomed in Suva by indigenous iTaukei men in traditional grass skirts, who danced and sang, then honored him with a kava ceremony. He apparently had been advised by his aides in the proper way to drink kava, and did not hesitate when the bilo was offered him. Modi downed it in one gulp, to the accompaniment of much hand clapping by the men of Sorokoba village who had administered the ceremony. Refusing kava is seen as an insult in Fiji (and, I can tell you, in other South Pacific societies as well), so Modi’s smooth performance was diplomatically shrewd and sets a good example for other heads of state. Chinese president Xi Jinping, visiting two days after Modi, was also honored with a kava ceremony by the men of Nakorotubu village. The story offered no word on how he fared.

However, in an aside the article mentioned that Modi performed better than Prince Charles of Wales on his diplomatic visit to the village of Viseisei in 2005. The Prince did not refuse a small sip of kava but reportedly grimaced at its admittedly pungent taste. Though his aides were suitably circumspect as to whether Prince Charles experienced any effects from the brew, they did say he was visibly relaxed on the flight home!

Perhaps Modi’s courtesy is even more to be appreciated considering the way the article described kava, as a “narcotic” that can fuddle brainwaves and cause “fuzzyheadedness”. Of course, anyone reasonably knowledgeable about kava knows it is not actually a narcotic; nor does kava impair reaction time, judgment, or cognition as it performs its wonderful relaxing ministrations.

The taste of kava also received less than complementary words: one source described it as similar to a “cocktail of dirty washing water garnished with old socks”. With that kind of primer, I’m a little amazed Modi decided to stop by Fiji at all! However, I and the Fijian kava community are certainly glad he did. Let’s hope the Indian PM’s visit signals a renewed era of diplomatic relations between Fiji and India once again!

Sources:

“Narendra Modi Gulps an Intoxicating Drink Politely”. NDTV Food. Last modified December 8th, 2014. http://cooks.ndtv.com/article/show/narendra-modi-gulps-an-intoxicating-drink-politely-631651.

“When Modi Quaffed a Drink to India-Fiji Friendship”. 5 Dariya News. Last modified December 6th, 2014. http://www.5dariyanews.com/news/60697-When-Modi-quaffed-a-drink-to-India-Fiji-friendship.

“For India-Fiji Friendship, PM Modi Downed a Drink Prince Charles Had Balked At”. NDTV.com. Last modified December 6th, 2014. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/for-india-fiji-friendship-pm-modi-downed-a-drink-prince-charles-had-balked-at-630849.

Pacific Islanders Accused of Trading “Black Market” Kava in Australia

Pacific Islanders Accused of Trading "Black Market" Kava in AustraliaAloha, kava lovers, Kava Guru here! As you all know, I will always champion making kava freely available to all who wish to access her many benefits to health and happiness. However, a recent news article made me ponder just how important it is to establish firm cultural guidelines governing the use of kava kava, just as have been set down in the South Pacific for countless millennia. Although the story I am about to relate pertains to the state of kava in Australia, I believe it has many lessons for how we view kava and its uses in the West.

A recent Radio Australia program highlighted remarks by Australia’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, about the use of kava in Australia’s remote northern Arnhem Land. Scullion stated there is currently a problem with illegal diversion of large amounts of kava into Arnhem Land—as much as 35 tons of powdered kava root—specifically targeted to the market of some 3000 regular kava users in the region. The amounts of kava being smuggled (his words) into Australia far exceed the legal limit of two kilos of dried kava root that visitors are allowed to bring through customs in their luggage. This small amount, suitable for personal use, is allowed under Australia’s laws so that Pacific Islanders entering the country can still pursue their traditions involving kava while in Australia.

However, Scullion also attributed the kava smuggling to South Pacific visitors (specifically Tongans), whom he believes are the main group responsible for diverting commercial amounts of kava into Arnhem Land for illicit sale. Scullion promised a “crackdown” by Australian authorities on large-scale diversions of kava intended for sale in Arnhem Land. There was also a recent motion to ban kava in Arnhem Land in response to this issue.

Watching the story unfold from the United States, all this uproar around kava in Australia struck me as faintly absurd. Why would Australia protest the increasing availability of a beneficial herb like kava into Arnhem Land when the Australian government already approved kava’s sale there in the early 1980s? However, appended to the news story was an interview with Alan Clough, a researcher with the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine in Queensland, who made the valuable point that indigenous people in Arnhem Land are using kava much differently than populations in the South Pacific. While Tonga, Vanuatu and other South Pacific countries have centuries of cultural regulations and protocols governing the way kava can be used, these regulations don’t exist in Arnhem Land; Clough said there is more potential for people to overuse kava out of boredom, or as a way to escape from the reality of low employment opportunities and lack of other activities in Arnhem Land.

Waterfall at Kakadu Park, Northern Territory of Australia

He noted that since the indigenous people of Arnhem Land have only been exposed to kava for about thirty years, there is greater potential for its abuse because it lacks a cultural context. Relatedly, indigenous peoples exposed to alcohol after European contact often experienced higher rates of alcoholism and damage to their social structures (in addition to the more direct damage European colonists did to the indigenous cultures they encountered). Of course, when used in the doses common to the South Pacific or in Western medicine, kava does not carry the health risks of alcohol. Yet Clough stated that kava does begin to have health effects when taken frequently at heavy doses, which is often how it’s used by regular kava users in Arnhem Land. Clough suggested that kava begins to manifest negative health effects at doses of about 350 grams of dried root power per week. These effects include reddened eyes; elevated blood platelet count; kava dermatopathy (a reversible kava-induced skin rash); shortness of breath; and changes in the levels of the liver enzyme gamma-glutamyl-transferase (GGT), although these changes did not indicate liver inflammation in the people he examined (Clough 2003). Clough also mentioned the possibility of malnutrition due to kava becoming the staple item of heavy users’ diet.

Equally troubling, other studies discovered that Arnhem Land residents often used kava in combination with alcohol. Experiments with mice have shown that administering kava and alcohol in combination may potentiate greater hypnotic and toxic effects than either substance taken alone (D’Abbs 1997). Additionally, while kava by itself has been proven experimentally not to impair cognitive function, kava and alcohol combined do have a deleterious effect on both subjective and measured cognitive performance in humans (D’Abbs 1997, 9). Ironically, kava was originally introduced to Arnhem Land in the 1980s as a alternative to alcohol, whose high usage rates were causing negative health and social outcomes in the community. Both frequent drinking and petrol sniffing were two risky behaviors engaged in by people in these communities who faced a real or perceived lack of options.

Arnhem Land’s rocky history suggests to me that simply taking away kava is not a solution to the region’s problems. In fact, this could lead to more problems as residents turn to much worse alternatives such as alcohol. Dr. Clough’s comments on the situation got me thinking—what if, instead of just banning kava, Australia turned the focus toward educating people about the best practices for using kava? What if they could create a stable cultural context around kava, just as there has been for dozens of generations in the South Pacific? My guru instincts suggest that creating such a context of safe and positive uses for kava could only improve the situation in Arnhem Land!

Another key leg of the effort to improve things in Arnhem Land would be development—putting some effort and dollars into creating infrastructure and opportunities for employment and prosperity that don’t currently exist in the region. Sitting around drinking kava (or anything) all day is likely more a result of apathy, of feeling like they have no future and nothing better to do, than of the availability of kava. One suggestion for economic improvement that got me especially excited was a proposal made by community leaders for the development of a “yolgnu”, or indigenous, kava trade: basically, instead of their only source of kava being controlled from the outside (by legal or illicit channels), Arnhem Land communities would take control of the import, sale and distribution of kava with the approval of the Australian government. A control board assembled of appointees from each kava-using community could regularly convene to negotiate on matters of trade and see that the profits from the wholesaling of kava go back to the communities of Arnhem Land.

Readers, I don’t know about you, but my excitement is palpable at this idea. What a wonderful proposal to put the control of kava back into the hands of Arnhemlanders! I sincerely hope that this proposal gains traction so that the people of Arnhem Land can enjoy all the benefits of kava within a well-defined cultural context that puts their future in their own hands again!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

Clough, A.R., C.B. Burns, and N. Mununggurr. 2000. “Kava in Arnhem Land: a review of consumption and its social correlates.” Drug and Alcohol Review 19: 319-28.

Clough A.R., R.S. Bailie, B. Currie.  “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous kava extracts”.  Journal of Toxicology. 2003. 41(6):821-9.)

D’Abbs, Peter and Chris Burn. September 1997. “Draft report on inquiry into the issue of kava regulation”. Sessional Committee on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol by the Community. http://www.nt.gov.au/lant/parliamentary-business/committees/kava.pdf.

Hill, Bruce. “Pacific Islanders accused of Australian black market kava trade”. Radio Australia. Last modified November 25th, 2014. http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/pacific-islanders-accused-of-australian-black-market-kava-trade/1393031.

Kava is on the uprise yet again!!

Kava upriseAlthough kava has been consumed by South Pacific islanders for centuries upon centuries, there have been some misguided attempts to reduce kava consumption. As a sad result there have been occasional dips in the amount of kava that is being consumed within the South Pacific and abroad.

We’re now on to a more pleasing time within kava history – Fijian reports are in and it’s official, kava consumption is on the rise in Fiji!!

With what could perhaps be considered one of the more tragic points within kava history (the series of bans resulting from the BfArM’s inconclusive studies regarding kava and liver toxicity), there was a severe decline in the consumption of kava worldwide. Unfortunately, this too had negative results in the South Pacific – as the global market for kava decreased, so did the kava-growing plantations on the islands, and with that many jobs were lost as well.

And it wasn’t too long ago that the Fijian government had attempted to ban kava drinking on certain days within some of its very own villages! As Commissioner Eastern Natani Riki explained, kava was being blamed for some of the social and economic development issues within iTaukei island populations.

However, bright and better days are upon us! It seems as though that ban never went through and the councils involved seem to have come to their good senses and realized that kava is actually very beneficial and helps the people to cope with their social and economic struggles. After all, without so many kava farms many of the iTaukei people would be left unemployed and a huge market for trade capital would be diminished.

The Fiji Times Online has just published an article outlining official statistics with regard to kava consumption in Fiji and it is my hope that these statistics reflect the global kava-drinking market as well.

However, due to a few conflicting points it is unclear how recent these particular statistics are.  The article reports, 1. a rise in kava consumption from 1993-2004, 2. that the survey is conducted every ten years, and 3. that the survey was launched just this last Friday – none of these points seem to coincide. If these statistics are conducted every 10 years, then how come the years listed are already ten years past?  What I think is meant, is that the last survey of 1993-2004 indicated an uprise of kava drinking and that the survey launched on Friday also reported positive feedback.

Either way, here are some quick and beautiful statistics as reported in the survey conducted by the Health Ministries’ National Food and Nutrition Centre:

  • The male drinking population is up by just about 10% and the female drinking population is up by just over 15%. Woo hoo! Although kava is traditionally only consumed by men – those traditional standards seem to be dissipating, allowing more and more women to share in the joys of kava on the islands.
  • About 70% of the Fijian population drinks kava at least two times a week.
  • A whopping 90% of Fiji adolescents reportedly drink kava at least twice a week. This could suggest just how much of a healthy opportunity kava could provide as an alternative to drinking alcohol in the United States and elsewhere that alcohol consumption is heavy amongst adolescents. All the more reason to keep those kava bars coming!

With the nearly global legal status of kava, I would wager a bet that there has been a fairly stark increase in kava-drinking populations all around the world and that the love of the South Pacific is well on its way to becoming a global icon of bliss and well being.

Cheers to kava and prospering joy!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

Sauvakacolo, Siteri. “Kava on the Up”.  The Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=283640.

 

Can Kava Be Used as a Herbal Sleep Aid?

Can Kava Help You Sleep? Kava Guru

A recent article in Hampton Roads titled “Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids May Impact Overall Health” shone some light on the drawbacks of many of the non-prescription sleep aids people in our overstressed, overworked society use to help them get to sleep at night [1]. Besides the short-term risks of delayed awakening and daytime drowsiness—no small consideration if you have to get behind the wheel of a car every morning!—the article pointed up long-term risks of habitual sleep aid use, including worsening sleep apnea, increased risk of heart disease and even cancer.

As the Kava Guru, I could only say, “Really? And all while a totally natural herbal sleep aid has been used in the South Pacific for millennia with no issues?” While the article did mention briefly that some people use kava kava (Piper methysticum) as a sleep aid, as well as other popular calming herbs like valerian, lavender essential oil, and chamomile, it was quick to label these remedies as lacking in scientific evidence. And of course, it also repeated the long-discredited information that use of kava may be linked to liver damage, which anyone who has read the new studies defending kava’s superior safety record knows was based on studies that were flawed at best, sensational at worst. But uneven as it was, the article got me thinking: can kava help you sleep?

Dr. Michael Breus, a sleep specialist writing on WebMD, stated that kava kava has been used a sleep aid in the South Pacific for its sedating and calming qualities [2]. However, at the time he was writing in 2011, there was much more uncertainty as to why some people experienced idiosyncratic reactions to kava kava, so he still recommended avoiding its use. However, as recently as last year, new evidence has emerged suggesting the culprit in the mid-2000s liver toxicity cases might be flavokavain B, a non-kavalactone compound found only in ignoble (or “Tudei”) kava strains that are now banned from export [3].

Diagnose Me, an online diagnosis website similar to WebMD, suggests that kava kava may encourage sleep by reducing the anxiety and stress that is a common cause of sleeplessness for many people [4]. Makes sense to me! Everyday stress, especially the inability to settle one’s thoughts before bedtime, is a huge factor in sleeplessness. The less sleep you get, the harder it is to get a handle on projects and tasks the next day, the more stressed you become, and the harder it is to get to sleep…you see the pattern developing here? Kava could very well offer harried Westerners a giant “reset” button by helping them achieve a state of relaxed calm, making it that much easier to drift into restful sleep. Other studies have suggested that kava has mild analgesic and muscle relaxant properties [4], so it might reduce mild aches and pains that can interefere with rest and help the body unwind physically before bed.

The site also references a very intriguing study on kava’s effects on brainwaves that was done by Saletu et al in 1989 [5]. The double-blind placebo-controlled study found that doses of synthetic kavain between 200 and 600 mg “enhances brain activity that favors restorative sleep… EEG [electroencephalogram] activity showed that kavain increased the alpha-1, theta, and delta waves that are associated with sleep while decreasing beta waves, which are a sign of wakefulness” [5]. As if that wasn’t enough evidence, these effects also increased as the dose of kavain was increased, so that “600mg of kavain produced sedation comparable to 30mg of clobazapam”, a benzodiazepine drug used as a control.

Well readers, I think it’s pretty clear that kava kava does have some scientifically backed evidence of effectiveness as a herbal sleep aid, especially in cases where anxiety or stress is a root cause of sleeplessness. Other methods for getting to sleep naturally include limiting your intake of caffeine, alcohol and sugar (especially right before bed); reducing the amount of ambient light and noise in your bedroom; and developing other healthy sleep routines such as ceasing the use of electronics 2 hours before sleep and making sure to eat your last meal about 3 hours before sleep. One creative strategy even suggested eating foods high in magnesium (which is a natural sedative) before you go to sleep. Some magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, cashews, almonds, legumes, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, and blackstrap molasses.

However, many health sites still identify mental stress as the number one cause of difficulty sleeping. Perhaps the best way to ensure you get a great night’s sleep is to combine the above strategies with a high-quality kava supplement to round out your healthy sleep toolkit!

REFERENCES

1. Ferguson, Pat. ‘Over-the-counter Sleep Aids May Impact Overall Health, According to Study”. Hampton Roads. August 3rd, 2014. http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/overthecounter-sleep-aids-may-impact-overall-health-according-study.

2. Breus, Michael J. “Kava For Sleep? Why It Continues to Be a Mystery”. Huffington Post. August 20th, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/kava-sleep_b_924318.html.

3. 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.

4. “Treatment: Kava”. Diagnose Me. Accessed September 23rd, 2014. http://www.diagnose-me.com/treatment/kava.html.

5. 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.

Kava for Peace!!

root-of-happiness_BIG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

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

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

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

Vanuatu Ambassador Encourages EU Nations to Lift Kava Bans

Buy Kava

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

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

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

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

 

What Is A Noble Strain of Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

What is a noble strain of kava?

Matthew,

Raleigh, NC

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

What Makes a Noble Strain of Kava?

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

Noble Vs. Ignoble or Tudei Kava Strains

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Status of the Noble and Ignoble Kava Cultivars

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Another Kava Endorsement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

Plan to Ban Kava Consumption

Ban on Kava could cause crop loss

This particular news bit that I am about to report, brings me nothing but sheer sadness – if I hadn’t just had my afternoon cup of Kava I might very well be curled up in a ball in a corner somewhere crying!

There is a current policy shift in motion within the Fijian government.   They plan to ban Kava kava in some of the more remote villages of Fiji’s island on a regular Monday through Friday basis – declaring that it is only to be had on the weekends.  Fiji is one of the possible birth homes of domesticated Kava kava, so to hear that it might become less of a regular part of some Fijians’ lives, is truly extremely heart wrenching.

What could this mean on a greater scale? It’s possible that Kava crops and Kava farming might be reduced as a side effect of cutting back on regular Kava enjoyment.  The villagers,  some of whom rely on Kava farming for a livelihood, might be put out of work.  And yet, Commissioner Eastern Netani Rika suggests that villagers start reducing their consumption of Kava kava and begin working on income-generating village projects.  He spoke with villagers from Vanuatu, Komo, Namuka and Ogea on that matter in particular.

The basis of this heart-breaking policy recommendation according to Commissioner Eastern Netani Riki, is that Kava is to blame for the poverty of these villages and the problems with development that the iTaukei people have been experiencing.  But, as I mentioned above and will now reinforce – cutting out Kava consumption entirely five days a week is going to greatly reduce the need for Kava crop production.  Not only is this a source of local income, but Kava is also one of the major trade products coming from Fiji and enjoyed by many other nations.

So, if Kava consumption is reduced on the basis of it becoming less of a part of Fijian villagers’ daily lives – then is it not safe to say that jobs will be lost and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) reduced? This sounds like it will reduce development and productivity to me, not increase it.

It seems unlikely that Netani Rika has ever had pure Kava kava himself, because surely if he had he would understand all of the wonderful benefits and life enjoyment it brings and how all of this will be taken away from the villagers if this terrible ban goes through!

One other thing batting around in my mind is whether or not the people behind this policy recommendation understand that the regular enjoyment of Kava might not be the cause of poverty and stunted village development – but might rather be a healing mechanism.  I would beg for the councils involved to look at the deeper roots of the social problems and not to blame one of the things that continue to add to the happiness of the village people.

I am very much relieved to hear that it is only something in the making and has not yet actually gone through.  Hopefully there is still time for the Fijian policy developers to come to their senses and learn to appreciate and encourage Kava kava consumption for the many beautiful things it has done for the people of the islands.

The Fiji Times – Plan to Ban Kava Consumption

Kava Recipe – French Press Kava

Kava Recipe - French Press KavaThis is a simple Kava recipe that has worked amazingly well for me, and I thought I would share it with you:

1. Take 6 to 8 tablespoons of kava powder and place in a FRENCH PRESS COFFEE MAKER.

2. Add cold water and stir.

3. Let it sit for about 20 minutes till it starts to settle to the bottom.

4. Press down the French press plunger until it will go no farther (slow steady pressure), then pour off the clear, pure, very potent drink.

5. Raise the plunger, add some more water, and repeat until the drink is too weak to have any numbing effect on the tongue.

This is a great way to make ‘awa for a small group or keep it available for multiple doses (keep it in the fridge).  I have kept it for up to a week, and the Kava tasted just as it did the first day I made it, and had the same kick.

Try it. I think you’ll like it.

Aloha,
Robert

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