What's Kava

What's Kava

November 25, 2018

Step aside, Kombucha. Stick to the past, green tea. Say hello to Kava

Author Ashley McCarthy / Category Kava / Published: Nov-11-2018

You may have never heard of the latest wellness drink sweeping the nation, but kava kava is taking the millenial world by storm

Kava, also known as kava kava, awa, or kawa. Kava is best known in the US as a "natural" aternative to such anxiety drugs as Xanax of Valium. Whilst still relatively new to the western world, kava tea is an ancient ceremonial custom hailing from the South Pacific islands for hundreds if not thousands of years. A tea that isn’t commonly consumed for its taste, but rather its naturally euphoric and social benefiting active ingredients that are derived from the roots of the plant indigenous to these areas.

Championship surfers are die hard fans, Even Britain’s royal family has tried it – both Prince Charles and Prince Harry partook in a ceremony knocking back a couple coconut bowls of the national drink on their last trip to Fiji.

Kava can offer both euphoric and relaxant effects with no deleterious effects on cognition. With mental health issues gaining more mainstream attention than ever before, it’s no surprise that Kava and its miraculous list of benefits is exploding in popularity with America’s experimental youth and health fanatics.

However, Kava tea is also steeped in controversy. It was once totally banned in Germany after a study linked it to liver damage 1. But with so many conflicting sources of information, what do you really need to know about Kava?

The Origins of the Intoxicating Pepper

The Kava or kava kava plant (piper methysticum) is a native shrub in the South Pacific Islands. Piper Methysticum literally translates to "intoxicating pepper" and kava kava to “bitter”, which is a spot on definition to both the effects and the flavor of the extracted tea. Kava tea is water-based drink made from the extracted actives located inside of the kava kava plant roots. South pacific islanders have been enjoying kava tea for hundreds if not thousands of years in the countries of; Tonga, Hawaii, Vanuatu, Samoa, and even Fiji, where the tea is considered to be the national drink of the country and is consumed on an everyday basis.

The tea is traditionally extracted from the plant by first removing the roots of the plant, then shaving off all of the bark covering them. The leftover roots are ground up into a chunky powder which will be used either immediately for fresh tea, or dried out for later use. In America we do not have access to raw kava root due to it commonly spoiling while being shipped (It can take up to 6 weeks aboard cargo ship!), so kava powder is dried out to preserve the key actives and make it sturdy enough to be transported to our ports (Vanuatu ain't close!). This is why whenever you're out in the South Pacific you MUST take advantage of the fresh kava kava!

Kava tea is traditionally brewed in a beautifully ornate large wooden bowl called a "tanoa". Here the root powder is poured into a thin mesh bag, which is finally tied shut and soaked in the bowl with water. Although every culture has their own style of ceremonial mixing, usually the bag is then squeezed and set back into the water to be picked up and repeatedly squeezed again. This meshing is essential to extract the active ingredients within the roots called kavalactones.

Once consumed, the actives in the drink known as Kavalactones create a relaxing sedative effect, calming you without impairing your mental clarity. Although hard to exactly explain, as most people's kava experienes may differ, the sensation is commonly referred to as a sensory-heightened state without the corresponding negative effects often found in recreational/social lubricants such as alcohol. However, consuming too much kava in a short space of time may cause symptoms such as nausea, double vision, sleepiness and skin-drying. Anecdotally the author notes that people who have a particular sensitivity to peppers should not ingest the kava root (such as with micronized powder), as this may cause stomach pains/issues.

Kava's popularity has grown so rapidly in the last decade, that even celebrity physicians such as Dr. Andrew Weil have made it a point to state their views on how, "Preliminary evidence suggests that kava may work as well for anxiety as potentially addictive benzodiazepine drugs."  Which may come as a bit of a worry to larger Pharmaceutical companies who hold the patents for these drugs, although rumor has that they attempting to stunt the industry in 2002 through the liver scares.

So What's it Like to be on Kava Kava?

There are many varieties of Kava grown across the south pacific, and the experience may vary depending on which blends you try. Some varieties are more blended for its sedative effects and muscle relaxing quantities, and others are blended for a light daytime destresser. However, amongst almost all of them there is a common characteristic for its ability to induce a feeling of calm, relaxation and overall well-being.

After your first bowl of kava tea, there are a couple things you may notice.

First your mouth and throat may go numb, like you got a shot of novocaine from the dentist.

Then after a few minutes you may notice a combination of such effects as; sensitivity to light and bright colors, a "melting" feeling of the back of your neck, body relaxing effects similar to a light dose of muscle relaxers, an overall feeling of euphoria and wellness.

Kava tea can be quite an intense experience but most people attribute the journey to a feeling of getting 'high' without the discoordination, mind fog, and negative issues associated with other drugs.

Credit: Byron Smith - New York Times


Although many variables may exist on your kava journey, there are a couple generic points you must keep in mind.

Kava is known to have a reverse tolerance - Unlike alcohol, your tolerance to Kava will decrease the more often you drink it, meaning you'll enjoy greater effects the more often you drink it. It may take some time to adjust and get used to the active material. Most people complaining about it not working usually have not built up the tolerance for it yet. Stick to it! To get a background, it took 3 trips to the local kava bar before the founder of DrinkRoot even felt anything!

Kava is best consumed on an empty stomach - Food is known to muttle the effects of kava and the combination we've seen, at least anecdotally, to enhance possibilities of nausea. Because of this we recommend drinking on an empty stomach, well after your last meal and sometimes before it. Our Fijian friends hold their ceremonies after work an hour or so before dinner and we recommend to do the same

Potency as a Natural Anti-Anxiety Medication

The last decade has seen an elevated interest from research scientists who, since mostly debunking the 2002 toxicity scare, have been increasing funding for clinical testing for kava as a natural anti-anxiety medication. In fact, recent evidence of the anxiolytic herb causing hepatotoxicity in the liver suggests "poor quality of kava raw material as a cause of its toxicity." With science researchers Teschke, Harris, and others suggesting "going back to the traditional use of kava for the sake of the patients."

We actually conducted an in-depth analysis on the liver hepatotoxicity cases and founds some hidden statements in the research literature about the correlation with kava extracts.

You can read more about the more thorough article 👉 Here.

The tea itself is considered to be the best natural symptomatic treatment option for patients with anxiety, boasting significant reductions in both placebo and double-blind cinical trials with a 95% confidence interval. Todays stressed out youth are even hailing it as "Natures Xanax".

Over 20 clinical studies to date with many more undergoing trials, currently support the tea's rare effectiveness as an potent remedy in easing the suffering of nerve-wrecked patients. An example being the 2013 published clinical trial by the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, stating empirical evidence of Kava reducing symptoms in patients who were suffering from general anxiety disorder (GAD).

Kava Controversy and the Question of Extracts

Example of kava extract supplements under question.

Extracts commonly come in forms of pills, tinctures, and paste.

In 2002 the United States FDA issued an advisory warning to consumers about potential risk of severe liver injury from the use of supplements containing kava.

The industry took a massive hit for decades, but emerging evidence has shown liver toxicity may be resultant from "poor quality of kava raw material as a cause of its toxicity." Experts also believe that the extraction method is the key for understanding the liver damage observed with modern kava preparations, as traditional consumption has not shared the same controversy.

The National Institute of Health actually upholds the only hepatotoxicity cases known to date were on kava extract supplements. Because of this, Kava kava cultivars highly DO NOT RECOMMEND consuming kava in extract form, as questionable chemicals and known hepatoxic parts of the plant may be used to extract the kava from the plant.

The safest way is the traditional way it has been done for thousands of years.

Again, we wrote an in-depth article specifically on this troublesome topic.

You can read more about the more thorough article 👉 Here.

👆 We HIGHLY Recommend you read this if you consume kava.

"It has been pointed out that liver damage is likely to be the result of non-traditional production methods of commercially available kava supplements."

- World Health Organization

How To Make Kava Tea

So, you’re interested in Kava and want to try it out? You can either visit a Kava bar and have it prepared for you, or you can opt for the original method used by south pacific islanders. Order some kava, a strainer bag, and get goin! The traditional method can take time, but it’s worth it to enjoy the herb as it has been prepared for hundreds of years…

  1. Mix Kava root powder with warm water in a large bowl. Use a mixture of 2:1 water to Kava powder.
  2. Either press or squeeze the soaked Kava through a strainer such as a paint strainer, cheesecloth or stocking. You’re aiming to squeeze out the Kava juice, similar to wringing out a cloth.
  3. Once squeezed, take the powder mixture out and add it back to the juice you’ve just strained out. Stir it up and then squeeze it again.
  4. Strain the tea again through a fine steel mesh strainer or use a new cloth strainer and be gentler to ensure the cloth retains any pulp.
  5. It’s time to enjoy the Kava. You can choose to enjoy it warm or add ice and enjoy chilled. Generally, Kava is served in multiple servings 10-15 minutes apart up to three servings. The full effects are typically felt after 20 minutes


    There are techniques you can use to increase the intensity of the tea.

    We made a step by step video on how to do that go ahead and head on over to "How to Make Strong Kava"

So Why Do People Use Kava?

Kava has been an underground practice over the last decade, only accepted in south east states like Florida, where it has been flourishing. But the intoxicating tea has been growing in increasing popularity as kava bars have begun popping up all around major metropolitan areas. Young millenials have been flocking in hordes to newly opened kava bars in New York's Manhattan, San Francisco California, Boulder Colorado, Seattle Washington, Portland Oregon, Wilmington North Carolina, and many more. The social lubricant is quickly replacing daily alcoholic drinks as a safer and healthier alternative to the long dangerous past of alcohol.

Because Kava offers a feeling of getting ‘high’ without the discoordination, mind fog and negative issues associated with other drugs, it is obviously popular as a recreational practice. However, people also enjoy Kava effects for different reasons.

Relaxation: often, people find Kava to be a good alternative to alcohol or other relaxant supplements like lemon balm or chamomile. (It's actually referred often as the 'chamomile on steroids') It allows you to enjoy a calming effect without impairing your clarity of mind.

Sleep: Kava is known to have sedative effects and is useful in aiding the promotion of sleep. It is not a drowsiness-inducing drug, so in reality it simply helps a user get into a more sleep receptive state. It’s worth noting that a very large dose (usually triple the recommended intake) before bed can result in hangover-like symptoms the following day. But a proper dose in the recommended range may help you wake up light and refreshed!

Pain relief: there’s no clinical evidence to support it, but many people enjoy using Kava as a way to aid pain relief. Some of our customers praise the blend for easing their fibromialgia and anti-inflammatory effects.

Pure Enjoyment: Kava is essentially a legal ‘high’ without the drowsiness, confusion and other negative effects associated with other means of relaxation, and the anxiolytic effects are unlike any other experience (at least onces I have tried!). As such, people often take it simply for enjoyment. It was also historically enjoyed as an aphrodisiac in the South Pacific – thanks in part to its reputation as an anti-shyness herb.


The recent boom of kava tea has shown there is a definite interest from all ages for a new less-violent social lubricant than what has been traditionally offered. Side effects are non-existent unless you abuse the herb, and provided you use a water-extracted variant, there is no evidence to support the controversial link between traditional Kava tea made with water and liver damage.

All that we know is the world is just scratching the surface in understanding the benefits of this magic and mysterious plant. Regardless what you may think of the tea, It's becoming apparent that kava is here to stay.

Have you tried kava tea yet? Let us know what you think in the comments below


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