Basic Information About Kava

When people discuss Kava, they could be talking about either the plant (“piper methysticum”, which translates to “intoxicating pepper”) or the tea that we make using its rootstock. Below is some helpful information about the Kava plant itself, as well as Kava tea.


What is a Kava plant?

You might consider a Kava shrub to be immensely different from the black pepper that you sprinkle on your meals, but in fact they both belong to the same pepper family – Piperaceae.

It’s thought to have originated from what we now call Vanuatu, before finding its way to many of the Pacific islands. As such, Kava is cultivated in many different ways across the region, resulting in many distinct varieties with differing flavours, psychoactive properties and other key characteristics.


What is Kava as a beverage?

While Kava tea is a relatively new concept to the Western world; Pacific Islanders have been aware of its medicinal properties and soothing effects for hundreds of years. Natives of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia take fresh or dry Kava shrub roots and grind them down into a fine powder, before mixing it into cold water to create Kava tea.

This beverage is a prominent part of their culture – many enjoy it as a social drink, while others conduct group Kava ceremonies that involve guests sitting in a circle around a bowl of Kava, which is placed in front of the group leader.

The specific effects that a Kava tea induces varies. This is because Kava plants are cultivated in different ways, consumed in different ways, and plants vary in potency based on where it’s grown. However, the appeal behind Kava is that it encourages feelings of relaxation, tranquillity and heightened sociability without clouding judgment or general mental awareness.

Many people consume Kava as a way to relax and unwind after a day of physically or mentally demanding work.


What gives Kava its psychoactive and medicinal properties?

The Kava plant’s rootstock and roots contain concentrated levels of an ingredient known as Kavalactone. The precise composition of each individual Kava plant’s Kavalactone will determine what kind of effects it will have on the consumer, while the amount of Kavalactone present in any given Kava plant ultimately depends on the way the shrub is cultivated.

There are six major Kavalactones:

  1. Desmethoxyyangonin (DMY)
  2. Dihydrokavain (DHK)
  3. Yangonin (Y)
  4. Kavain (K)
  5. Dihydromethysticin (DHM)
  6. Methysticin (M)

Every Kava product contains a six-digit number that indicates the “Kava chemotype” – how much of each of these six Kavalactones is present in the shrub or powder. The numbers are ordered from most prominent to least prominent.

For example, “426513” would mean that the most prominent Kavalactone in this particular Kava product is Kavain (4 = Kavain). Then the next most prominent is Dihydrokavain, then Methysticin, Dihydromethysticin, Desmethoxyyangonin and finally Yangonin. Make sense?


Choosing Kava products based on their chemotypes

It’s worth noting that you can’t rely on the Kavalactone chemotype to tell you the potency of the beverage. It simply informs you of the type of Kava you’re consuming.

However, by doing your own research into which Kavalactones generally deliver certain effects, you can favour certain chemotypes over others to produce the desired effects.

As an example, the most popular Kavas tend to be those with high levels of Kavain and Dihydrokavain, for their uplifting cerebral effects. This means you’d be looking for Kava products with 4 and/or 2 as the first and second digits of the chemotype.

On the other hand, those looking for a slightly “heavier” Kava that is less suited to social interactions and more for long-lasting sedating effects should opt for higher concentrations of Dihydromethysticin (i.e. 5 as the first digit of the chemotype).


How potent is Kava?

As you’ve no doubt already guessed from the information above, there are a lot of factors that determine how potent a specific Kava product is, including:

  • The age of the Kava plant
  • The cultivar (the variety of Kava plant that’s been cultivated)
  • The skills of the Kava farmer
  • The plant’s lateral roots concentration
  • How it was stored (temperature, light, duration etc.)

While the chemotype indicates the composition of the Kavalactones, it’s the amount of Kavalactones present that will determine the potency. Generally speaking, a Kavalactone content of 5-15% is the ideal.

The most potent part of any Kava plant is the lateral roots, so typically you’ll notice that higher-end Kava products contain higher concentrations of lateral roots. However, these products will be more expensive and have a more bitter taste.

Finally, Kava should be stored in something air-tight (like a Tupperware container or vacuum-sealed bag) in order to maintain its potency.


For more information, contact us directly

While the information featured here serves as a helpful introduction to Kava, you can also learn how to measure the quality and purity, as well as understanding the differing types of Kava and how it’s traditionally prepared.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information.

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. All information that Two Valley Produce has provided on our website stems from our own understanding of traditional Kava consumption, based on readily available resources and research to date. The above content is not a suitable source for diagnosing, treating, curing or preventing diseases/ailments of any kind. If you are currently taking medication or suffering from any health concerns that require treatment, the Two Valley Produce team strongly recommends consulting with your General Practitioner before consuming Kava.

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