Kava Kava

Piper methysticum


Kava Kava comes from the rootstocks and rhizomes of the "mystical pepper” and has been in use for at least 3,000 years. A Polynesian shrub with large, heart-shaped leaves, kava is used throughout the Pacific Islands as a tranquilizing, relaxing and inebriating preparation. It is especially beloved by the kahunas, or Hawaiian shaman, who partner with kava in search of inspiration, healing and communication with the gods. In traditional Hawaiian culture, the roots are masticated, the juice spit into a bowl, water is added, and the mixture is strained and then consumed. On one island in the South Pacific, kava is combined with a species of usnea said to produce a synergy that boosts kava's potency. Drinking kava creates a sense of well-being, contentment and happiness and enhances ease of conversation and relaxed comfort in social situations. Kava has been used in Europe as a sedative and antihypertensive since the 1920s.

The physiological effects of the kavalactones, the active ingredient, include analgesic effects twice that of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), and one-fortieth the potency of morphine. Kava's local anesthetic effects are comparable to cocaine. It is a muscle relaxant, and it possesses antifungal activity. Try using kava to ease your chronic pains. Studies conclude that kava is of considerable benefit to those with generalized anxieties, social phobias or agoraphobia, with best results seen after four weeks of consuming it. Compulsive disorders, as well as depression, were significantly decreased with the use of kava, while memory performance and concentration skills increased.

The late, great James A. Duke, Ph.D., author of Anti-aging Prescriptions, puts kava on his list of Best Herbs for Staying Young and says that because kava thwarts all sorts of stress-related ailments, it slows the aging process itself, and it won't dull your mind the way valium will.

According to scientific tests of both water and lipid extractions, the most active constituents of kava, particularly the ones that result in muscle relaxation and deep sleep, are lipid-soluble and appear to be completely non-toxic.

Natives of the South Seas prefer fresh kava roots to dry, and mastication does aid absorption of the kavalactones. Grinding the roots and adding coconut milk is an effective alternative. Dried roots can be made into fermented mead, said to possess psychotropic and aphrodisiac properties, or they can be tinctured in alcohol. Allergic sensitivity reactions are possible but extremely rare.

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