The secrets of Kava Kava



Kava (Piper methysticum ) is a plant derived from the Western Pacific islands that is sold all over the world.  The roots are distributed in various forms such as powder, coarse root, or extracts/tinctures.

The name is Tongan and Marquesan; other names include ʻawa (Hawaiʻi), ʻava (Samoa), yaqona (Fiji), sakau (Pohnpei), and malok or malogu (parts of Vanuatu)

Traditionally, kava plants are harvested around four years of age, for their higher concentrations of kavalactones (the active ingredient). After reaching about 2 meters in height, plants grow a wider main stalk.

The roots of the plant are traditionally used to produce a drink with supposed sedative, anesthetic, euphoriant, and entheogenic properties. It is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. Indigenous cultures claim that kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. 


The several cultivars vary in concentrations of primary and secondary psychoactive alkaloids. The largest variety is grown in The Republic of Vanuatu, and so it is recognized as the origin or “home” of Piper methysticum. It was historically grown only in the Pacific islands of Hawaii, Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Samoas and Tonga. Also grown in the Solomon Islands since World War II and imported, kava is a cash crop in Vanuatu and Fiji. Cultivars not only differ in requirements for successful cultivation but also their unique characteristics in appearance and medicinal and psychoactive properties.


There are many different strains.  One element of strain differentiation is where the plant has been cultivated, considering that some areas produce different kavalactone variations.  Another element is which part of the root is being used, basal root and/or lateral root.  Lateral root dominant blends are actually sold at higher prices than basal root blends, as they are more potent and highly sought after.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “individual compounds, D,L-kawain induced in low doses a decrease in dopamine levels and in higher amounts either an increase or no change in dopamine concentrations.”
There are three chemical classes in the kava resin: (i) arylethylene-alpha-pyrones; (ii) chalcones and other flavanones; and (iii) conjugated diene ketones. The substituted 4-methoxy-5, 6-dihydro-alpha-pyrones or kava pyrones, commonly called kavalactones, possess the highest purported pharmacological activities. NLM
What are kavalactones?
Alkaloids! There are many alkaloids present in kava root besides the main kavalactone Methysticin. There is said to be around 17 other different kavalactones that have been identified to date. Multiple analogues, such as ethysticin, have also been isolated. Some consist of a substituted α-pyrone as the lactone while others are partially saturated. In order to bring out the essence of the kavalactones it is important to add oat milk, coconut milk, cows milk, goats milk, or heavy cream to the mixture. The fat content of these various milks bind to the psychoactive compounds in the plant when extracted via cold water.


Fresh root contains on average 80% water. Dried root contains approximately 43% starch, 20% dietary fiber, 15% kavalactones, 12% water, 3.2% sugars, 3.6% protein, and 3.2% minerals. kavalactone content is greatest in the roots and decreases higher up the plant.

Kava root juice is the highly concentrated water extract of fresh kava roots. Root juice is dehydrated to form an Instant powder that dissolves in water. Instant kava isn’t ground, it doesn’t contain the fibrous root material and doesn’t require straining. This concentration is typically twice as potent as traditional kava root powders.

Harvest happens after peak kavalactone content develops in mature roots of the kava plant, about four to five years. Most kava plants produce around 50 kg (110 lb) of plant root material. Kava root is classified into two categories: crown root (or chips) and lateral root. Crown roots are the large-diameter pieces that look like (1.5 to 5 inches (38 to 127 mm) diameter) wooden poker chips. Most kava plants consist of approximately 80% crown root upon harvesting. Lateral roots are smaller-diameter roots that look more like a typical root. A mature kava plant is about 20% lateral roots. Kava lateral roots have the highest content of kavalactones in the kava plant. “Waka” grade kava only contains lateral roots.

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