Kava (also known as ava) is a member of the pepper family (Piperaceae). There are a few species, but by far the most commonly used today is Piper methysticum.
Kava comes from the scattered islands of the pacific ocean. Although it’s not clear which island the plant first originated, it owes its extensive range to indigenous cultures who set off in search for new lands by boat. The explorers often carried samples of kava roots with the goal of beginning new kava plantations when they eventually reached their destination.
This demonstrates how important the plant was to the indigenous cultures of the pacific islands.
Today, the kava plant is primarily used in the form of a tea for inducing states of relaxation, fighting stress, and supporting sleep.
In small doses, kava is particularly useful as a euphoric and stress-reducer — but in higher doses, the herb has strong sedative effects, and can even cause a feeling similar to being drunk from alcohol.
- Kava Kava
- Awa (Hawaii)
- Ava (Samoa)
- Yaqona (Fiji)
- Sakau (Pohnpei)
- Malok (Vanuatu)
- Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
- Relaxing nervine
- Urinary Antiseptic
Kava is used as a sedative for supporting sleep (higher doses), for alleviating anxiety, and in social circles for its euphoric effects.
People take the herb when feeling particularly stressed to feel more at peace and relaxed, and to help them get to sleep. Kava is used to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Many people use the herb while working on creative projects because of the mild euphoric effects, and for the plant’s ability to reduce stress and worry that may be interrupting the creative process.
Traditional uses of kava primarily involved ceremonial use — as it was thought the herb could bring those that consumed it closer to ancestors that have passed away.
There are other species of kava that are used more as medicine than for recreational or social reasons. These other species tend to be much stronger sedatives, and have powerful emetic effects (causes nausea and vomiting) — which was used therapeutically to clear the body of infection or other causes of illness.
There’s a lot of folklore around kava. The story changes depending on the culture the story originated from, but in most cases, kava is regarded as a gift from the gods, leading to its strong spiritual use during ceremony among the local cultures of the pacific islands.
There’s not enough information to prove the safety of kava during pregnancy — as such, kava should never be consumed if you’re breastfeeding, pregnant, or think you could be pregnant.
There are some reports that kava can cause damage to the liver. While these reports have been proven to be inaccurate, it’s important to avoid using kava if you have pre-existing liver disease, or are taking other medications with known liver interactions. This includes alcohol.
According to KavaGuides.com, the ideal dose of kava is 150 – 250 mg of the active kavalactones per day. This is the dose of the active ingredients. The potency of kavalactones can vary from one strain of kava to the next.
The kavalactone content can be used to measure the dose of kava extracts and tinctures but can be hard to measure in raw powders — which is the most common form you’ll find the herb.
For raw powders, the recommended dose is usually around 10 grams per person — but it’s wise to start with a lower dose whenever trying a new strain or batch of kava, and build up from there until you reach a comfortable dose.
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-  Distribution, mythology, botany, culture, chemistry and pharmacology of the South Pacific’s most revered herb