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Kava Kava: Giver of Peacefulness

by Judy Josiah

Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) is an herb with a long and fascinating history and one that many in our society are likely to become familiar with in the next few years if they are not already. And this familiarity might just lead to a tranquil long-term love affair with an herb that both promises and delivers so much in our overstressed society.

The slightly succulent, erect perennial shrub belongs to the pepper family. The fresh root is probably more potent than the dried root, but most of us have to settle for dried roots. The Tahitians have identified about 40 varieties of the plant. Those wanting to use kava kava may need to experiment with different brands of tinctures and other products to see which are most effective for them since different companies may use different varieties of kava kava. Before launching into a discussion of kava’s many uses, I believe a word of caution is called for: it concerns me greatly to see so many in our society—myself included—living lives of increasing stress, trying to do more and more, acting like gerbils on a never-ending wheel to nowhere. I would like to see more of us examine and change our life-styles and not rely on herbs year after year to help us deal with stress. In other words, we need to address the underlying disease of our society and individual ways of life instead of over-relying on herbs that are health-giving and health-sustaining. That said, kava is a powerful herb that offers us much when used appropriately to deal with the stress and anxiety that so often plague our lives.


Kava kava has a number of actions on the body.

It is antispasmodic, diuretic, analgesic, antiseptic, tonic and sedative. Interestingly, much of the efficacy of kava kava comes from the relationship of several kavalactones in the plant. (A lactone is a chemical similar to an alkaloid.) Each of the approximately 15 identified lactones works synergistically with the others. A good quality rhizome should contain between 5.5 and 8.3 percent kavalactones. When you first ingest kava kava, whether as a tincture or in a tea, you will notice that the herb has a very astringent taste and numbs your mouth. Shortly, you should begin to feel less fatigued, and more relaxed and peaceful. Researchers in Germany as well as numerous herbalists have found that kava kava is a safe, nonaddictive alternative to pharmaceuticals such as Valium™, Halcion™ and Xanax™ and without the undesirable side effects. Kava kava also has anticonvulsant properties and has even been used effectively in cases of strychnine poisoning.

 



In traditional Chinese medicine, kava kava is said to increase the Chi and blood flow without increasing the heart rate, and is a powerful heart medicine. Pain and tension are caused by blocked Chi and kava kava can remove these obstructions, resulting in the relief of pain and the relaxation of muscles. Because kava kava does not affect alertness in most people when taken in small doses, it is an excellent choice for treating anxiety associated with depression. Still, some researchers have cautioned that even with low doses, motor reflexes may be slightly impaired so care needs to be taken when driving an automobile or operating machinery.

Kava kava is a safe muscle relaxant, so it is excellent for nervous tension including headaches caused by tension in the neck. Kava kava gives deep relaxation, but allows one’s mind to remain clear, and gives a sense of peace. Some people report having long, colorful dreams after consuming kava kava before bedtime. While kava kava is not a sedative herb in the same way as antipsychotic and benzodiazepine drugs are, it works well as a hypnotic for sleep. I find that kava kava helps me to get to sleep quickly, sleep more deeply, stay asleep longer yet still awaken feeling refreshed and rested. I take a dropperful of tincture before bedtime and I drink a cup of kava kava tea. I combine the kava kava with lemon balm (melissa) or chamomile, and a pinch of stevia for a calming, tastier beverage. A recommended dosage would be 1,500 to 3,000 mg of dried root daily or three to six herbal capsules of 500 mg each of kava kava daily for up to three months.

For extended use, consult your herbal practitioner. Because of its calming effect, kava kava is used in bladder infections and gonorrhea. Although it has little antibacterial qualities, it is a fairly strong antifungal, but it does not seem to be effective against candida. Kava kava produces a feeling of mild euphoria and might be a good choice with mild depression although not all herbalists agree on this point. Kava kava shows no tendency to become habit forming. Kava kava’s local anesthetic qualities on the mucous membranes make it a good choice for pain control externally. In some cultures, the powdered root was placed on the gums of infants to control the pain of teething. In New Caledonia, the leaves were chewed for bronchitis. Overconsumption of large quantities of kava kava can cause the skin to turn yellow and be dry and scaly. Fortunately, the condition disappears once the person quits taking the herb. In large doses, some people have experienced becoming so relaxed that they could not move. Again, use common sense as you would with any herb.

This information is for educational purposes only. Consult with a qualified health practictioner for all serious or persistant illness.
Copyright © 2000 by Robinson & Horne, L.C.