Kava Kava Root

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Piper methysticum Forst. f.
Family: Piperaceae

COMMON NAME(S): Kava, kawa, kava-kava, awa, yangona

Kava herb is a shrub that belongs to the pepper family, and has been used for thousands of years by the people of the South Pacific for a variety of therapeutic purposes. It is also known as kava kava, but it is the kava root itself that contains the shrub's medicinal properties.

It is widely used as a mild sedative with relaxant properties and has been administered for nervousness, tension, cramping, and stress. Its active constituents are several different varieties of Kava lactones and this is not only found in standardized extracts. Most bulk roots and powdered roots offered by reputable bulk herb suppliers generally garnish 13-20% Kava lactone.


The kava beverage is prepared from the roots of the plant, which were traditionally chewed or pulverized and steeped in water. The cloudy mixture is filtered and served at room temperature. Kava has been an important part of Pacific island ceremonial cultures for many centuries, with elaborate rituals attending its consumption. Traces of kava extract on artifacts from Fiji have been identified by mass spectrometry. Its main use has been as a relaxation inducer in kava ceremony participants, facilitating discussion and interaction.

Botany :- Kava is the dried rhizome and roots of Piper methysticum, a large shrub widely cultivated in many Pacific islands ranging from Hawaii and Tahiti to New Guinea.It has large, heart shaped leaves and is propagated exclusively by root cuttings. It is thought to be derived from the wild species P. wichmannii C. DC.Many kava cultivars are recognized, and the comparative chemistry and ethnopharmacology have been studied in detail by Lebot, who grouped 121 named cultivars from 51 islands into 6 chemotypes.

Uses of kava

  • Kava is used in the treatment of mild-to-moderate anxiety and for sedation.
  • In folk medicine, it is also used for genito-urinary infections, gall-bladder complaints, gonorrhea, arthritis and rheumatism. 
  • Kava Kava roots are the basis of a ritual Polynesian drink that has a calming affect, while heightening mental awareness.
  • Kava Kava is also used externally to treat joint pains, toothache and mouth ulcers.

Drug Interactions :: Other sedatives, levodopa

Side Effects of kava

Kava is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation and should not be used in patients with depression. Heavy consumption of kava can produce a scaly skin rash similar to pellagra; however, supplementation with niacin did not reverse the condition. Disturbances in visual accommodation have been described. Limit kava use to 3 months to avoid habituation.


When taking Kava supplements make sure that they are standardized to the kavalactone content. Usually, 70 mg of standardized kava extract is taken three times daily, for a total dose of 210 mg. A single 210 mg dose may be useful for insomnia. To help reduce anxiety and insomnia, and to reduce stress, a suggested kava dose is 2 to 4 grams as decoction up to three times daily. A kava decoction is created by boiling the herb in water.


Kava's actions are additive with those of alcohol and benzodiazepines, although this well-known interaction is poorly documented in the clinical toxicology literature. Heavy consumption of kava produces a scaly skin rash similar to pellagra. However, supplementation with niacin did not reverse the condition. Cessation of kava use causes reduction or disappearance of the dermopathy. Shulgin suggested that the flavokawain pigments were responsible for this toxicity; despite the lack of any scientific proof, these pigments are commonly removed in the production of commercial extracts. Poor nutritional status and other general adverse effects were seen in an Australian aboriginal community where (nontraditional) kava consumption was very heavy. Disturbances in visual accommodation have also been described.

Kava is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation and should not be used in patients with depression. Do not use while operating heavy machinery. There is a possible interaction between kava and other sedatives and levodopa. Limit kava use to 3 months to avoid habituation.

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