This herb, a member of the pepper family, grows as a
bush in the South Pacific. Explorer Captain James Cook,
who gave this plant the botanical name of “intoxicating pepper”,
first discovered kava kava. Kava has been used for over 3,000
years for its medicinal effects as a sedative, muscle relaxant,
diuretic, and as a remedy for nervousness and insomnia.
The botanical has been used in parts of the Pacific at traditional
social gatherings as a relaxant and in cultural and religious
ceremonies to achieve a higher level of consciousness. The roots
can be made into a mildly narcotic beverage that is comparable to
popular cocktails in our culture. In Germany, Kava kava is used as
a nonprescription drug to reduce anxiety. Kava was first mentioned
in scientific records in 1886, and it is gaining popularity in the
US for its relaxing effects.
More recently, Kava kava has also gained popularity with the natives
of Hawaii, Australia and New Guinea where it is used medicinally as
well as recreationally. Kava also is effective as a pain reliever
and can be used instead of aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Recent clinical studies have shown that the herb kava is a safe
non-addictive anti-anxiety medicine, and as effective as prescription
anxiety agents containing benzodiazepines such as valium. While
benzodiazepines tend to promote lethargy and mental impairment,
kava has been shown to improve concentration, memory, and reaction
time for people suffering from anxiety. Kava has been clinically
demonstrated as a means of achieving a state of relaxation without
the adverse side effects.
Several rhizome components and lactones have been isolated in the
kava root. Of the fifteen lactones isolated from kava, there are
six major lactones (kavalactones) known to provide psychoactive
activity: kawain, methysticin, demethoxy-yangonin, dihydrokawain,
dihydomethysicin, and yongonin. All kavalactones are physiologically
active, though it is the fat-soluble kavalactones derived from kava
resin that have the greatest effect on the central nervous system.
Kava also has a direct effect on muscle tension similar to tranquilizers.
The activity of the kava rhizome is related to several arylethylene
pyrones similar in structure to myristicin, which is found in nutmeg.
Kava is mildly narcotic and produces mild euphoric changes characterized
by elevated mood, fluent and lively speech and increased sense of sound.
Higher doses can lead to muscle weakness, visual impairment, dizziness
and drying of the skin. Long term use of the herb can contribute to
hypertension, reduced protein levels, blood cell abnormalities, or
liver damage. Alcohol consumption increases the toxicity of the
pharmacological constituents. It is not recommended for those who intend
on driving or where quick reaction time is required.
Kava is the most relaxing botanical herb with exception of the opium poppy.
Pharmacological studies show kava kava’s active ingredients, kavalactones,
produce physical and mental relaxation and a feeling of well being.
It has also been used in the treatment of ailments of the genitourinary
tract including vaginitis, gonorrhea and menstrual cramps. Kava is a diuretic
and an anti-inflammatory, thus useful for gout, rheumatism, bronchial congestion,
cystitis and prostatis. It is an effective local anesthetic and pain reliever
when applied externally as a liniment. The relaxed state and sharpening of
senses also contribute to aphrodisiac effect.
Parts Used: Root and rhizome. Used as powder, fluid extract, and tonic beverage.
Common Use: Kava root is primarily used as a natural sedative and sleep
enhancement. Herbalists have traditionally used it as a remedy for nervousness
and insomnia. Kava kava is an effective relaxant able to induce a feeling of
relaxation, peace and contentment, along with a sharpening of the senses.
As a sleep aid it promotes deep and restful sleep. It is also a muscle
relaxant that can help relieve cramping due to spasms.
NOTE: Do not use if pregnant, nursing, or being treated for depression