If you’re traveling to the Pacific Islands, chances are you will be given a ritualistic drink called kava and sourced from the kava plant (Piper methysticum), a shrub that can reach up to 3 meters in height.
However, you don’t need to travel to the Pacific Islands to try Kava. In fact, Kava has become so popular that it is now consumed worldwide. The increasing popularity of this amazing drink can be attributed to its therapeutic properties because the kava plant can reduce anxiety, improve mood, fight inflammation, and stave off stress.
If you’re reading our Kava Guide, you’re probably a novice kava enthusiast looking for answers to the questions arising in your head. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve heard about kava several times and you’ve seen people enjoying the drink and drawing from its health benefits, but you don’t know a jack about the plant.
With that in mind, we have prepared the ultimate kava guide for beginners. There are many topics to cover when speaking of the plant, but let’s start with the basics.
What Is Kava?
Kava is a prized herb that is renowned for its stimulating (or sedating, depending on the type of kava) properties and the ability to treat a range of illnesses. As we mentioned at the very beginning, kava is sourced from the kava plant, with its Latin name Piper methysticum. This shrub can reach even 3 meters in height before it gets harvested.
The kava plant belongs to the pepper family. It has large, green heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are situated thickly on the plant’s branches, while its long flowers grow where the stems meet the branches.
Geographical Origins of Kava
Kava is a plant native to the Pacific Islands, largely cultivated in the cultures of Polynesia, including Melanesia, Vanuatu, some parts of Micronesia, and Hawaii. The natives use the plant to produce a drink with sedative, euphoriant, anesthetic, and stimulating effects. It is also considered a potent aphrodisiac.
How is Kava Processed?
When the kava plant is harvested, cultivators use its root and mix it with water to make the simplest drink. Today, a kava drink is made by grinding, pounding, or grating the roots of the plant and immersing them in cold water or coconut milk.
Traditionally, however, the natives of Pacific Islands used to prepare the drink by chewing up the root and spitting it into a bowl with one of the aforementioned liquids. The reason why people use the roots of the plant to make kava-infused beverages is simple; the roots are where kavalactones – the active compounds of the kava plant – are found in the largest concentrations.
Despite what you might have heard, there are actually many kava varieties spread out across the entire South Pacific. As we said, this is the ultimate kava guide, so we’re going to leave no stone unturned.
According to botanists and phytochemists, there are different methods of distinguishing different kava varieties. In Vanuatu alone, people grow at least 30 and as many as 70 kava strains depending on who you ask.
But basically, kava plant strains fall into two categories – noble and non-noble. Now, which one do you think is better when it comes to medical benefits and potential drawbacks?
If your thoughts followed Team Noble, your gut was right. The vast majority of strains that are the ingredients in kava tea and other drinks come from the noble category.
The noble strains are preferred by both producers and users because they come with more health benefits and have fewer side effects.
On top of that, the roots of the noble strains have more kavalactones and don’t trigger nausea, sleep deprivation, or hangover. That being said, it’s almost always Noble over Non-noble, unless you really like hangovers.
Okay, so now you know there are two categories of Kava, but their subdivision is actually more complex than you might think. Like all plants that have been cultivated for centuries or millennia, the kava plant has developed plenty of varieties.
Here are the most common Kava sub-strains:
- Tongan White
- Fijan Kava
- Melo Melo
Your experience with kava will depend on the chosen sub-strain, so if you’re at your local kava store, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for the strains used in the product of your liking. Consider what you want to use kava for, as well as what effects you would like to achieve – and then, pick your best!
Benefits of Kava
Kava has long been appreciated for the wide range of benefits it comes with. The plant has been shown to treat various illnesses, but people use it for recreational purposes, too.
Let’s start with the most important purpose for using kava, which is, of course, health.
Kava is known for its ability to relieve anxiety, elevate mood, and enhance the overall well-being. These properties are associated with kavalactones, the main active compound in the plant’s root. Thus far, scientists have examined three examples of kavalactones in animal and laboratory studies – kawain, dihydrokawain, and methysticum.
According to other studies, kava can help reduce convulsions, combat sleep disorders, and provide users with muscle relaxation.
This, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Pacific Islanders have long been using kava’s diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties to relieve pain caused by neurodegenerative disorders. Actually, kava can now be consumed in a variety of forms, from powder to capsules and liquid drops.
Kava’s ability to reduce stress and bring down the feeling of relaxation has made the plant a perfect night-out resource. People are meeting in kava bars for their drinking sessions and we must tell you that we have never seen such a peaceful vibe inside a bar filled with folks drinking booze. Kava promotes euphoria while keeping the user clear-headed and actually sober, so it’s a splendid substitute for those who abstain from drinking alcohol.
We believe you’ve come across several aphrodisiacs in your life; strawberries, chocolate, mamajuana, cannabis – they can all make your sexy time sexier. But did you know that the kava plant can also be used as an aphrodisiac?
Depending on the variety you choose to drink those couple hours before the date with your boo, kava can elevate your sensual experience to the ceiling. Just think about the tranquility filling your body, washing away stress and anxiety, and then, combine it with the euphoria and razor-sharp senses provided by kava – the rest is up to your imagination.
Common Uses of Kava
Our ultimate kava guide wouldn’t be complete without a list of the most common uses of the plant.
People drink kava in order to deal with:
- Menstrual cramps
- Chronic pain
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Urinary issues
Potential Side Effects of Kava
Kava was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. in March 2002 as a safe substance available for consumption. However, FDA also highlighted the rare but still possible risk of liver failure from the heavy kava drinking, specifically those products having high concentrations of kavalactones.
When it comes to other side effects, they are rather minor, but it’s still important to monitor your intake of kava.
Too much of the drink can result in:
- Stomach discomfort
- Lack of appetite
- Increased anxiety
- Problems with hearing
- Hair loss
- Allergic reactions
Nonetheless, just as we mentioned above, if you keep your intake of kava in moderation, you’re going to be all good. After all, you can even overdose on water, which doesn’t mean you should stop drinking it.
To cut the long story short, it all boils down to common sense.
What Kava is Best For You?
Before you leave our kava guide, we would like you to be certain what type of kava is best for your needs and for the time of the day you want to consume your drink.
As we mentioned earlier, there are between 30 to 70 different kava strains depending on the consulted source, but the general classification of the plant can be compared to how we categorize cannabis.
Although there are hundreds, if not thousands of cannabis strains, each of them falls into one of the three categories: sativa, indica, and hybrid. When it comes to kava, we distinguish heady kavas, heavy kavas, and balanced kavas.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown:
Heady kavas are perfect for daytime use. They make you feel more energetic and bring down the feeling of euphoria, which helps you rock hard throughout the rest of the day. A cup of heady kava in the morning is better than a strong mug of coffee, not to mention that kava is safer for your health than caffeine.
However, keep in mind that it’s not advisable to drink heady kavas in the evening or right before sleep, as it will be simply counterproductive and you will wake up totally wasted the next day.
While heady kavas are more likely to give you the cerebral buzz and elevate your energy levels, a cup of heavy kava is better suited for evening use. Drinking heavy kava before bedtime will put you to sleep like a child, not to mention that your body will be completely relaxed, which is invaluable for ensuring the proper regeneration.
Last but not least, there are balanced kavas. They are considered hybrids between the heady and heavy varieties, which makes them good to use anytime. If you want to find out whether your kava is heavy, heady or balanced, you can do it by asking the staff at your kava bar to show you the label of the product. Once you have it in your hands, check the drinking recommendations to see if the kava is better for daytime or nighttime use.
How to Prepare Your Own Kava Drink?
It goes without saying that you’re not going to consume your kava in its raw form. Once you decide what kava variety is a better fit for you, the second decision will be to select the type of your material depending on its consistency.
We distinguish three main types of kava based on how they are manufactured:
- Medium-Grind Kava
- Micronized / Instant Kava
- Kava Concentrate
Making your kava drink is a child’s play but we will be more than happy to provide you with some brief instructions on how to prepare your kava-infused beverage. After all, this is the ultimate kava guide.
So, without a further ado, let’s iterate on different methods of preparing kava.
To brew Medium-Grind Kava, you will need a strainer bag and a dish filled with water to keep your final product in.
To begin with, measure out the preferred amount of kava root and put it in your strainer. Most kava users add about 2-4 tablespoons to the strainers, but others like to double or triple this amount and save it for later.
Once the kava is measured out and placed in the bag, place it into your bowl and pour the hot water directly over the ground kava root. In order to brew your drink properly, let the mixture sit in the bowl for a couple minutes (5 – 10 minutes is the golden standard). If you want to extract more kavalactones from the root, use very hot water (about 120 degrees).
There’s one extra step you need to complete before pouring the kava mixture to your cup. Twist the top of your kava strainer so that it’s tightly closed and get rid of all the excess air. Keep kneading the bag until you strain all the water out. If the water turns a milk chocolate-like color, it’s good to go.
Last but not least – the drinking time! However, before you drink your kava, you might want to consider refrigerating it a little bit to enjoy your herbal remedy. If you’re a short-tempered kind of a person, you can always throw a few ice cubes in and start sipping it right away!
Micronized / Instant Kava
Like Medium-Grind kavas, micronized and instant kava is meant to be prepared at home, save for the fact that it’s quicker to prepare. All you need to do is stir 2-4 teaspoons of kava into any beverage of your choice.
As far as we are concerned, the best drinks to mix micronized / instant kava with are juices or smoothies; they tune down the earthy taste of kava, making the mixture more enjoyable.
If you want to have your kava always ready on-the-go, opt for kava concentrates. Concentrates are often flavored so that the aforementioned earthy taste of kava is dominated by other, more tolerable flavors. That being said, you can prepare a tasty and enjoyable drink by simply diluting the concentrate with water or a non-alcoholic drink you have at hand.
Kava is one of the most versatile plants on the planet. Once cultivated only within the areas of Western Pacific, the herb is now popular among people in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. Thanks to its wide range of medical benefits, kava has found committed supporters in patients who can’t stand OTC drugs and are looking for a natural and, above all, safe alternative for treating their illnesses.
Aside from being a strong anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-anxiety agent, kava is great for social meetups because it induces euphoria, makes you relaxed, and staves off stress. Moreover, couples use kava as an aphrodisiac to spice up their intimate time in the bedroom, so now you know why the plant has been cultivated for hundreds of years.
Of course, kava has some potential side effects but they are anything but severe. As long as you keep your supply of kava in moderation, there’s nothing to be worried about.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed our ultimate kava guide and you’re now ready to hit the kava bar to personalize your experience with the beverage and draw the most out of its medical, recreational, and sensual benefits!