(Piper menthysticum) Family – Pepper (Piperaceae)
Kava is a member of the pepper family originating from Polynesia and the Pacific Islands, and has been used as social beverage and a medicinal agent for thousands of years. Kava Kava is said to be a gift from the gods. It opens us to VU; the all-encompassing love of the God or Goddess. Opening and enhancing our connection to the creative force of the universe we begin to understand the connections between all things.
Part Used: Fresh or dried root, usually shredded or powdered root.
Actions: Bitter, pungent and dry, Kava’s medicinal actions include anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), muscle relaxant, analgesic, sedative, urinary anti-microbial and antifungal and possible anti-convulsant
Social/Spiritual – Historically Kava was used as a social lubricant. In Kava’s originating culture when a visitor came, they were required to bring Kava with them. It is often served during dispute resolution because it opens participants to their higher connection and makes it easier to find common answers to difficulties.
Recreationally, Kava’s mild hypnotic and euphoric effects, calm the body and nervous system yet keeps the mind alert, making its use popular as an alternative to alcohol and social drug use.
Muscular Skeletal Pain- Kava is a powerful herbal antispasmodic and analgesic and is useful when working with muscular tension and spasms. Especially when stress, anxiety and/or trauma are also present. Kava relaxes both striped skeletal and smooth muscle tissue, relaxing without inhibiting central nervous system function or dulling the mind. This makes Kava helpful for a wide range of complaints including such conditions as fibromyalgia, urinary pain, back and muscular pain, cramps etc. Kava helps muscles relax without inhibiting CNS function. Small dosages are most beneficial and are often added to potentize formulas.
Anti-Anxiety/Anti-Depression – Kava Kava works more as an anti-anxiety agent than as an anti-depressant. The constituents work mainly on the brain stem causing nervous system sedation. The many Kava ketones work on the limbic system, enhancing GABA receptors responsible for emotional and mood regulation. Thus, Kava helps to improve our mood, and lighten or stabilize emotions. Kava is reported to quickly dissipate many effects of fears and apprehensions, calming and sedating the system, making it especially useful for Anxiety, Panic, PTSD, and more.
Sleep/Relaxation – The same constituents that help with anxiety (affecting the brain stem and GABA receptors) make Kava useful for promoting healthy, peaceful sleep. It helps to relax the mind-body without heavy sedation.
Urinary system – In many parts of the world Kava is the “go to” treatment of bladder spasms, UTI and interstitial cystitis. It’s an effective diuretic with potent anti-spasmodic and anti-pathogenic properties make it useful for a variety of urinary and reproductive dysfunctions ranging from cystitis, prostatitis, vaginal leucorrhea (including yeast infections), nocturnal urination, elderly atonic bladder and general fluid retention. It has a numbing action on the tongue, the ureters and bladder. This coupled with its relaxing effect on both smooth and skeletal muscle and its anti-microbial effects make it useful working with renal colic (passing stones), pelvic-pain syndrome, PMS and cramps, and testicular pain.
Kava is a carminative that improves appetite and digestion. The combination of these properties makes Kava useful for the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions, which is one of its traditional medicinal uses among South Sea Islanders. Topically, Kava can be applied as a fomentation or ointment for mild general anesthesia for the local relief of sore muscles. It can also be chewed and kept in the mouth for the temporary relief of toothaches.
Dose – Small doses are most useful and may be taken up to 4 times per day.
- ¼ cup tea made by cold infusion (see below for details).
- Tincture – 30 – 90 drops
Contra-indications – Do not take when pregnant as kava may relax the uterus. Not for use in breastfeeding as its strong relaxing effects may transfer through the mother’s milk. Kava should not be taken when benxodiazapine class drugs are used as it may magnify the effects of such drugs.
Large Dosages for a long period of time have been known to cause a skin rash and possible elevation in liver enzymes. Kava should be avoided by those with liver disease. These side effects reverse when Kava is discontinued.
Preparation – Traditionally the powdered root is prepared by cold infusion. Kava ketones are not easily soluble in water. The addition of high fat liquids such as in milk or coconut milk increases the strength and can be infused straight or added to the cold water. Tinctures are also effective.
Traditional Preparation – Strain the dried kava powder in water. In Hawaii the strainer is often a nylon stocking, cheesecloth, one-gallon paint strainer, or muslin bags. Use 1 ounce of powder per person (2 tablespoons). Place the powder into the strainer bag, hold its edges together at the top with your hand so that none of the powder escapes. Then, immerse the bag into a bowl of cool water. The amount of water will vary according to taste, but a good rule of thumb is 1 ounce of powder to a pint of water. Use your hand to knead the kava under the water or bring the strainer out and squeeze then immerse it again in the water. The kneading is the most critical step in the entire process.
The kava should feel oily at first, which is due to kavalactone levels. Keep repeating this process until the kava in your strainer no longer feels oily. The water should take on the appearance of mud; the color of your kava brew may range from tan to dark brown depending on the varietal of kava used. If you wish, you can also add soy lethicin to your kava drink as an emulsifier to increase the extraction of kavalactones into your drink. That’s it; you are finished!
Kneading can be replaced by the electric blender. Approximately 2 tablespoons of kava and 8 oz. (1 cup) water make for 1 serving of a drink. Simply add the kava and water in a blender for about 4 minutes. Pour mixture into a nylon sieve or cheese cloth, squeeze excess liquid into a bowl. Discard pulp and enjoy.
French Press Method – This is a simple recipe that has worked amazingly well for me, and I thought I would share it with you:
- Take 6 to 8 tablespoons of Kava powder and place in a FRENCH PRESS COFFEE MAKER.
- Add cold water and stir
- Let it sit for about 20 minutes till it starts to settle to the bottom
- Press down French press plunger till it will go no further (slow steady pressure) the pour off the clear, pure, very concentrated drink.
- Raise the plunger and add some more water and repeat until the drink is too weak to have any numbing effect on the tongue.
Winston, David RH (AGH), Analgesia; The search for effect pain relief, botanical and nutritional protocols, Lecture from the Southwest Botanical Conference 2015
Stansbury, Jill E. Stansbury ND, lecture; Botanical and Nutritional Therapies for interstitial Cystitis 2016
Quade Crawford, Amanda, MD The Latest Research on alternative therapies for Mental Illness. Southwest Conference for Botanical Medicine conference notes 2015
Proefrock, Kenneth ND, Naturopathic treatment for fibromyalgic conditions; Southwest conference on botanical medicine conference notes, 2009
Stansbury, Jill E, ND Urinary Botanicals; Specific indications; Medicine from the Earth Conference Notes 2009