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Kava Kava

Piper methysticum

Herbs gallery - Kava

Common names

  • Kava Kava

When you talk about kava, it generally reminds one of a traditional beverage. However, kava also denotes the stump or rootstock of an herb, botanical name Piper methysticum and it is a member of the Piperaceae family. Kava is basically a cultivated plant that is germ-free. The beverage is prepared from this plant's rootstock and both the beverage as well as the rootstock is traditionally called kava. These species has a several cultivars (cultivated types) and it original may be traced back to a forerunner growing in the wild and called Piper wichmannii. This herb grows naturally in several places that spread across the region from New Guinea to the Solomon Islands as well as in Vanuatu.

Usually the rootstock of kava is more familiar as a rhizome. However, this classification remains a highly debated topic among botanists. In several tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean, this plant is mainly grown for its rootstock and at its most important distribution hub in the archipelago of Vanuatu as many as 80 of its 118 cultivars are grown. This herb is also cultivated extensively in Baluan, Hawaii, Futuna, Fiji, Madang, Pohnpei, Rotuma, Samoa, Tonga and Wallis.

People inhabiting the Pacific islands have a keen preference for the traditional drink kava and usually they consume it at dusk accompanied by plenty of fanfare just prior to their evening meal. People inhabiting the Pacific islands belong to different cultures as well as religions and consuming kava is associated with many of their customs and ceremonies. These rituals and rites may be compared to the French ritual of drinking wine, but it is more detailed. In fact, kava is also prepared in a traditional and elaborate manner. First, people chew the roots of the herb, which are then pulverized, scraped or battered to pulp, which is subsequently drenched and infused in cold water with a view to obtain their active elements. The final product is a potent and viscous brew. When different Heads of State or VIPs visit the Pacific island they are served kava as a tradition and show of honour.

As a beverage, kava has a potent and disgusting flavour and may result in deadening of the local body parts. The chemistry of kava is quite intricate and the kava-lactones or kavapyrones enclosed by it are mainly responsible for its taste as well as biological actions. Studies undertaken with kava have been successful in isolating as well as distinguishing a number of vital kavapyrones, such as methysticin (1.2% to 2.0%), kawain (1.0% to 2.0%), dihydomethysticin (0.5% to 0.8%) and dihydrokawain (0.6% to 1.0%). These four pyrones that are of methysticin-kawain type possess anticonvulsant as well as muscle relaxing attributes. Altogether scientists have studied 15 different kavapyrones, which include yangonin and desmethoxyyangonin among others. Pipermethystine, an alkaloid, is the main element present in kava leaves. However, this alkaloid is not present in the kava roots.

Drinking kava may make one feel healthy and happy and also elevate their mood. It is also believed that consuming kava also causes one to feel content, besides unwinding them. However, this drink does not have tranquilizing consequences. Nevertheless, if consumed in large amounts, kava may also result in photophobia (sensitivity to light) and diplopia (a condition wherein single objects appears as double), which may occasionally result in oculomotor paralysis. It may be noted that oculomotor paralysis is a condition wherein the muscles fail to act in response to usual movements, eventually culminating in prostration (extreme mental depression) and unconsciousness. Drinking kava in excessive amounts for prolonged periods, for instance for several weeks or months, may also cause the skin epidermis to become dry leading to lacerations as well as the skin becoming yellowish. Drinking excessive amounts of kava may also result in other symptoms, including eyes becoming reddish, loss of hunger, urticarial patches (reddish or whitish raised patches) accompanied by itching. All these symptoms are transient and they disappear when one discontinues kava consumption.

Herbal products prepared with kava first appeared in Europe way back during the 1860s. People in Germany were ahead of others in using extracts from kava and, by the close of the 19th century such products were easily available at the drugstores. Two decades later, in the 1920s, pharmacies in Germany started selling herbal preparations with kava, primarily in tincture form, to be used as mild sedatives as well as hypotensive agents. In addition, as far as curative studies on kava rootstock were concerned, Germany has been in the vanguard. Presently, the subject of German therapeutic phytomedicine monograph involves the potential utilities of kava rootstock as well as different remedial preparations with it for treating conditions like nervous anxiety, tension and restless conditions.

As per the German dissertation, it is not advisable to use this herb during pregnancy and when one is depressed. In addition, nursing mothers too are advised not to use kava. In Europe, people have been traditionally using kava extracts in conjunction with seeds of pumpkin to treat irritable bladder syndrome. As discussed above, consuming kava may result in a number of adverse effects, such as the skin, hair and nails becoming yellow. However, these are temporary consequences which fade when one discontinues using kava. In addition, drinking kava in large amounts and for prolonged periods may result is rare types of skin allergies. Hence, it is advised that people should not operate machines or drive after consuming kava, as it has a tranquilizing effect. This is also the main reason why you should not use kava in combination with alcohol. It is worth noting that several people have been prosecuted in the United States for driving in a sedative condition after using kava. Hence it is recommended that ideally you should consume kava just before hitting the bed.

Scientists in many countries have undertaken numerous researches on kava extracts and of these no less than six studies have been double-blind controlled researches. However, these double-blind remedial studies have come under criticism for not including enough criteria. In two such studies the substances examined were kava extracts that were homogenized to 15% kavapyrones, while in the remaining four studies the test substances contained 70% kavapyrones. Scientists also undertook clinical tests on using kava extracts for treating conditions such as agitation due to non-psychotic reasons, anxiety, tension, mood of people after undergoing surgery and even the climacteric (menopausal) symptoms. These studies assessed an assortment of factors and the findings were encouraging. Records available from studies undertaken during the last several decades in Germany as well as other clinical trials reveal that kava is a very strong herbal alternative to several synthetic (man-made) medications.

Kava may easily be used as a substitute for benzodiazepines as well as different anxiolytics while treating mild cases of anxiety attributable to various dissimilar reasons. While synthetically prepared anxiolytics as well as sedatives result in physical as well as psychological habits, such side effects do not occur when you use kava. Nevertheless, using kava has its own downsides or side effects, particularly if you are using it in heavy amounts, but they are generally transient and have been recognized as well as documented.

Kava has a great potential in the US market, because this herb is a wonderful alternative for the synthetically prepared anxiolytics. However, the market status of kava will largely be subject to the responsibility of the manufacturers in providing appropriate dosages of correctly prepared products, because there is apprehension that these products may be abused. Overstated claims regarding the powers of the herb as well as its psychotropic influences (sedative actions) by over-enthusiastic advocators may possibly also work to the herb's disadvantage in the market.

The term 'kava' denotes something sharp, astringent or tart and it definitely is an appropriate suggestion regarding the actual flavour of the traditional beverage. The rhizome or rootstock of the plant is the major ingredient of this beverage. The traditional preparation of the beverage entails chewing the rootstock and then pounding it. People believe that when the rhizome is chewed, human saliva makes it stronger and generates a more potent effect. However, up to date processes are used in the United States as well as other countries where the use of kava as well as its pharmaceutical preparations are increasing by the day. The modern methods do not involve chewing or mashing of the rootstock and this herb is used as capsules.

Folk healers in Hawaii employ kava kava for numerous purposes. However, this herb is most commonly used in the form of a remedy to induce relaxation by people belonging to several cultures and nations across the globe. In Hawaii, people have been traditionally using this herb for treating various health conditions, including anxiety, asthma as well as to alleviate pains caused by arthritis. Kava works in the form of a diuretic and is prescribed for people enduring problems related to the urinary tract. In addition, kava kava is also given to people to counteract exhaustion and induce sleep. This herb is also prescribed for obese or overweight people, as it works as a means to reduce extra weight.

Kava kava is considered to be highly effectual in treating psychosomatic symptoms that generally occur during menopause and medical tests have established this quality of the herb. Kawain present in kava kava causes numbness and, hence, this herb also acts in the form of a localized anesthetic, particularly in the case of the mouth and the lips. Therefore, when you eat any food after drinking kava, it will seem as if the food does not have any flavour. Experiments undertaken on animals have revealed that kava extracts help to relax the muscles to such an extent that the animals often fall out of their revolving cages. However, it is believed that any particular constituent of kava kava is not solely responsible for this kind of effect. It has been found that methysticin and dihydomethysticin (DHM) enclosed by the herb work to defend the animals from muscle spasms attributable to strychnine.

Parts used

Root.

Uses

For a long time now, people inhabiting the South Pacific Islands have valued as well as used kava in the form of a soothing and invigorating tonic. In addition, they believe that the herb also possesses aphrodisiac properties, as the consumption of this herb in excessive amount results in an ecstatic state of the mind.

The aboriginal people of Australia as well as the South Pacific islanders swear from their experience that consuming large amounts of kava kava also generates a sedative effect resulting in a state of unconsciousness.

It is said that kava kava is a very useful antiseptic and owing to this attribute this herb is used for treating several venereal ailments, particularly gonorrhea. Although kava kava is no longer used for treating these conditions, it continues to be used in the form of an antiseptic for the urinary tract. In addition, this herb is also useful in combating infections of the urinary tract and cures irritable bladders.

Kava kava is also an excellent remedy for persistent pains, as this herb helps to unwind the muscles and also lessens the sensitivity and in this way it helps to provide relief from pain. This herb also possesses gentle analgesic attributes and is an excellent stimulant as well as reinforcing medicament.

Kava kava also possesses diuretic properties and is a wonderful analgesic. It is very effective in treating arthritic as well as rheumatic conditions, such as gout. Besides aiding in getting rid of waste materials from the joints affected by rheumatic and arthritic conditions, kava kava provides relief from the chronic pain experienced by patients suffering from these conditions.

This herb is also a very useful remedy for alleviating anxiety. Furthermore, using kava kava is considered to be safe for all and its use does not result in adverse affects that are caused by a number of synthetic drugs. Kava kava may be used for a prolonged period while treating cases of chronic stress. It is also a valuable remedy for treating emotional stress, since the herb has the aptitude to relieve anxiety and also helps to unwind the muscles. These attributes make kava kava a wonderful medication for alleviating muscle strain.

As the use of kava kava produces a numbing effect, this herb is also effective for dealing with canker sores and toothaches. In addition, the herb may also be employed in the form of an analgesic mouthwash.

Other medical uses

The herb is commonly used to relieve tension headache.

Habitat and cultivation

Kava kava is grown all over the South Pacific Islands and this herb may even be found growing in Hawaii, which is located in the extreme east. Kava kava is a trailing plant that is native to the Polynesian region. However, you may also find this herb in the Unites States and Australia, where commercial cultivation of the plant is extensive primarily owing to is numerous uses. This herb is generally raised on frames and it requires plenty of shade and a well-drained soil that is stony. Kava kava is reproduced from its runners more often than not in early spring or late summer.

The roots of kava kava can be unearthed all through the year, as there is no particular time for collecting them.

Research

Several studies undertaken on kava have revealed that the herb encloses a substance called kava lactones that work to dampen the central nervous system. In addition, kava lactones possess antispasmodic properties. Kava lactones may be used to reduce pain or numb the urinary bladder and the urinary tubules. Studies also show that a constituent of kava called kawain may also work in the form of a tranquilizer.

Clinical studies undertaken by scientists in Germany show that kawain is effectual in alleviating anxiety and is equally useful as the synthetically prepared medication benzodiazepine. The findings of the clinical experiments were made public in 1990.

Constituents

Kava kava contains lactones, which are also called kava pyrones, particularly kawain, methysticin, desmethyoxyangonin, 5,6 dehydromethysticin, dihydrokawain, dihydromethysticin, and yangonin. Kava lactones comprise a maximum of 3 per cent to 20 per cent of the plant's roots by its dry weight.

Usual dosage

Taking kava extracts providing anything between 140 mg and 210 mg kava lactones daily is considered to be standard dose of this herb. As an substitute, a number of people also consume about 1 ml to 3 ml of the freshly obtained liquid from kava rootstock in the form of a tincture.

Side effects and cautions

Prior to taking kava or preparations containing this herb, you ought to be aware of their possible side effects and the precautions you need to take. A number of people taking the recommended dosage of this herb have been found to be suffering from mild disturbances related to the gastrointestinal system. Consuming kava for a prolonged period or taking it in excessive doses may result the skin complexion to turn yellowish. However, this is just a passing problem and the complexion of the skin will be normal once you stop taking kava or formulations prepared with it. Although rare, in some cases, people may also have skin allergies or develop rashes owing to using kava.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid using kava or any medication prepared with the rootstock. It is also not advisable to take kava in combination with substance that also has an influence on the central nervous system. Therefore, strictly avoid taking kava in conjunction with antidepressants, alcohol, anti-psychotic medications and barbiturates.

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