Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Piperales
Family: Piperaceae
Genus: Piper
Species: P. methysticum

Kava refers to the species P. methysticum and at least 50 other species of the family Piperaceae. But if you are talking about kava the drink/drug/'herbal remedy', it's almost surely P. methysticum, the most popular of the psychoactive kava species.

Kava root has been used by various groups of Pacific islanders for over three thousand years as a relaxing and stress relieving drink. Kava is traditionally used as a drink for social gatherings, and in some cases has religious uses.

Kava drink (sometimes called grog, although it is not alcoholic) is prepared with cold water and kava powder, pounded from kava root. It relieves stress, relaxes the body and imparts a feeling of well being. Used before bedtime it promotes restful sleep (although some report having very vivid dreams after drinking kava). It may also cause localized numbing in the lips and tongue.

Kava is just now becoming popular in America. It has a large following in the surfer subculture, and can often be found in alternative medicine contexts. It is legal in America, but the FDA is has issued a warning about possible liver toxicity. It is banned in some European countries, and kava derivatives are banned in the UK.

As I recall, kava tastes like water that has had a bit of old wood soaked in it. Nothing special. It is sometimes combined with coffee to produce "kavajava". I have never tried this, but it is said to be better than either kava or coffee on their own.

The brand name of a reduced acid coffee. Good if you have acid reflux syndrome or other kinds of heartburny-type problems. Has a nice slightly nutty flavor--better than most any other instant coffee.

Kava Kava root was originally used as a religious drink by various island tribes of Oceania.

It's now used as a relaxant, both by people who have anxiety problems, insomnia, and people who simply want to calm down. It often produces a calming effect.
However, if used excessively for more than a month, yellow skin will result.
Also, if used enough, your body will go numb. Kavateens, the main chemical in Kava Kava is a numbing agent.
from a bottle of kava kava from Puritan's Pride:

kava kava was first discovered in Polynesia by explorer Captain James Cook and is still widely celebrated throughout the South Pacific. The root of this plant is made into a popular Tahitian beverage called Sakau.

DOSAGE: for adults, take 600 mg three times daily with water at mealtimes.

CAUTION: this product contains kavalactones. do not exceed 3600 mg daily. not for use by persons under the age of 18. if pregnant, nursing, or taking a prescription drug, consult a doctor prior to use. excessive consumption may impair ability to drive or operate heavy equipment. not recommended for consumption with alcoholic beverages. kava should not be used in Parkinson's disease or with current benzodiazepine use.

There are several different ways to take Kava, and the active chemicals it contains, kavalactones. As with any pharmaceutical substance, the means of taking the substance often make a much more difference than the amount taken. This is especially true with Kava, which seems to have major differences in the quality of the product, and major differences in people's subjective reactions to the product. Reactions to Kava can react from nothing, to minor relaxation, to a feeling of well-being that approaches intoxication.

  • Powder mixed in cold water: this is the traditional way that Kava is consumed, and for most people not in an area where it is grown, the most rare. This is, in my experience, also the best way to consume it. After consuming it in this manner, the effect begins within a few moments, and gradually peaks. Supposedly, the freshness of the Kava powder makes a large difference. Oliver Sachs reports that after drinking fresh Kava in this manner, he had an experience close to hallucinatory. People in North America, drinking a mixture made from Kava powder that is several weeks or months from harvest, will probably not have that intense of an experience. They will probably pay more for it, as well.
  • Pills: pills come in two forms, solid ones made from compressed kava powder and filler, and capsules that contain powder within them. It would make sense that pills, since they are a purified and concentrated form of the actual substance, would have a sudden onset and strong effects. But from my experience pills are the least potent form, and I often feel that taking them is a waste of money. The pills that have powder within them can be broken open and taken sublingually, or even (if you wish) insuffulated, but even that does not appear to be too effective
  • tinctures: Kavalactones are mostly nonpolar, so they should dissolve quite easily in alcohol. And because the tincture is concentrated, a small amount of tinctured Kava should be very powerful. Much like with pills, my experience has been otherwise. While the tinctures are more powerful than pills, usually having a noticeable effect, they seem to be less powerful than a normal mixture of powder in dilute water. Again, this is something that I find hard to explain on theoretical grounds.
  • Tea: or technically speaking, a tisane, sometimes mixed with actual tea. At least one company, the Yogi Tea company, makes a tea that is a mixture of Kava and other spices. The other spices are there to mask the dull-wood taste of Kava, and the entire process is much more pleasant than other forms of Kava. Also, I have found this to be one of the smoothest and strongest onsets of action, which again seems somewhat paradoxical, since it is in a dilute form.

I must stress again, that as they say on the internet: "Your Mileage May Vary". Also, as with any pharmaceutically active product, especially a psychoactive one, be cautious with the use, and make sure you ease into it slowly, to find out of any physical or mental effects it might cause. Other than that...happy dreaming!

Ka"va (?), n. [Polynesian.] Bot.

A species of Macropiper (M. methysticum), the long pepper, from the root of which an intoxicating beverage is made by the Polynesians, by a process of mastication; also, the beverage itself.

[Written also kawa, kava, and ava.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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