Kava (Piper Methysticum)

Kava is one of the classic enigmas of Oceanic ethno botany. It is consumed throughout the Pacific as a relaxing beverage for social interaction and as a support to religious inspiration. Because of its many beneficial qualities it is superior to alcohol, nicotine, tranquilizers and other substances that serve to reduce stress an improve mood. Interest in Kava is growing worldwide and its consumption is now extending well beyond the Pacific Rim as new products are developed from it for pharmacological and recreational markets worldwide.

Kava (Piper Methysticum), a member of the pepper family Piperaceae, is an outstanding ethno pharmacological species. Kava is a handsome shrub that is propagated vegetative, as are most of the Pacific’s major traditional crops. Its active principles, a series of Kava lactones, are concentrated in the rootstock and roots. Islanders ingest these psychoactive chemicals by drinking cold-water infusions of chewed, ground, pounded, or otherwise macerated Kava stumps and roots.

The Kava plant is a robust, well-branching, and erect perennial shrub. It grows well in altitudes 150-300 meters above sea level in stony ground. It prefers warm, humid conditions with a lot of sunlight and can grow up to nine feet tall. The leaves are heart shaped, green, smooth, pointed, and about 4- 10 inches wide. The heavy, knotted mass of root grows about 60 cm below the ground and is used medicinally. Kava meaning "intoxicating drink," grows in the South Pacific in Polynesia, Indonesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia which makes up Oceania. It is also found in Hawaii where it means "bitter," "sour," "sharp," and "pungent."

Exhaustively researched, Kava: The Pacific Elixir written by Vincent Lebot, Mark Merlin, and Lamont Lindstrom, offers an extensive survey of this amazing plant from the perspective of the horticulturalist, the ethno botanist , and the pharmacologist. It provides compelling insights into this plant and has been an integral part of the religious, political, and economic life of the Pacific Islands for centuries. It contains information that is invaluable to the serious scholar yet is not written with the specialist alone in mind. Beyond its soporific qualities Kava is also used throughout the islands of the Pacific as an analgesic, a diuretic, and an anesthetic. There is even evidence suggesting it is effective in the treatment of asthma, tuberculosis, and venereal disease.

Numerous chemical and pharmacological studies of Kava have been published over the past 140 years, producing a wealth of data.

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