What is kava?
Kava has been used for centuries in the south Pacific. Traditionally the cultivation, preparation, and consumption of kava has been used for purposes ranging from communing with members of the village, welcoming guests, and even resolving disputes. But what is kava? Is kava safe? You may be asking yourself where you can find kava. Luckily, the kava market is booming in the United States, and people across the country are availing themselves of the soothing health benefits of this traditionally indigenous preparation.
Kava Kava or Piper Methysticum is a dietary supplement, the root of relaxation. Related to the pepper family, Kava Kava, or just Kava, has roots in ceremonies in countries in the south Pacific, such as Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu, where, according to research by the University of the South Pacific, 82 cultivars of the plant are located, more than anywhere else in the Pacific. The kava plant is steeped in lore, including the story of a heartbroken brother who discovered its medicinal properties by accident. In the south Pacific, indigenous cultures use kava to commune with spirits and to achieve an elevated state of mind. The drink, prepared by pounding the root of either the noble or tudei variety of the kava plant into a powder and steeping it in water, is ritually drunk from polished half shells of coconuts for nearly every occasion.
The Root of Relaxation
But why drink kava? There’s a reason it’s so popular in the south Pacific, and why its popularity in the United States is fast growing. Kava produces a relaxed, euphoric effect in those who drink it, and can even have health benefits like promoting good sleep. This is good news for people who struggle with insomnia or anxiety, or people who suffer from addiction. In the United States, the company kava keeps is diverse, but it’s certainly populated with people who wish to stop drinking alcohol, or struggle with narcotics. Because of the effect that kava has to produce calmness and even an elevated mood, people turn to the drink instead of alcohol, or even to alleviate anxiety in their daily lives.
So where can you find kava? For many, a trip to a nakamal, or Vanuatuan meeting place, is not in the cards. Kava bars in the United States have been springing up since the early 2000s in Florida, California and New York especially, but can be found in nearly every region of the country. While traditionally, Pacific Island nations use kava to build community, Americans live fast-paced lives where rituals are reserved for occasions like weddings or the birth of a child. Kava bars, then, have been adopted by people in the United States as an alternative to bars for relaxing after work, or even on their lunch breaks to wind down during a stressful day. And kava has an acquired earthy taste, which may leave you wondering how anyone can stomach the root drink. Its health benefits are that powerful. A couple of shots of kava and anyone will find themselves relaxing with a grin on their face, chatting up their neighbor with a clear mind. And if you can’t handle the flavor, some kava bars have developed non-alcoholic kava cocktails to mask the flavor and make it more palatable to sensitive tongues.
There has been some dispute in Europe about the safety of the kava root for consumption, as drinks prepared with impure kava or prepared with the tudei variety have been linked to liver damage. However, countries like Germany, that once banned the substance, have made an about face and now permit possession and consumption of the kava root. In the United States, kava is regulated as a dietary supplement. Even still, kava connoisseurs caution against using kava with alcohol or certain medications, as the interactions can cause deleterious effects. However, drinking properly cultivated kava in moderation, while avoiding alcohol, should produce nothing but a jovial, easygoing feeling.
Kava is an exotic and beneficial plant that has been cultivated for nearly 2000 years. Kava has been used by members of Pacific Island nations for the purpose of relaxing and creating a genial mood among their communities. This root of relaxation has now entered the market in the United States and is available for many people. It can provide an alternative to habit-forming substances as well as soothe the stresses of a hectic schedule. Drinking kava can provide the same comfort and clarity enjoyed by the people of the south Pacific.