Plant Spotlight: Kava, Piper methysticum

Hawaiian ‘Awa or Kava ‘s distinct heart shaped leaves

‘Awa, as it is known in Hawaii, or Kava is part of the pepper family, and you can taste it’s resemblance in the earthy, yet slightly spicy roots. The roots contain the active component of this plant, however, ancient Hawaiian kahunas are known to have wrapped the leaves of the ‘Awa plant around the heads of patients suffering from headache. Medicinally, the plant is used for pain relief and insomnia, but the traditional drink “Kava Kava” was imbibed ceremonially for just about every known occasion- births, deaths, marriages, rites of passage, to cure illnesses and remove curses, as a blessing at the beginning of big projects, and as a public atonement of misdeeds.

Squeezing the ‘Awa root through a cloth bag to make the Kava Kava drink.

In both Fiji and Hawaii, it is offered as a gesture to notable guests, but more prominently so in Fijian culture. It is used to celebrate, resolve disputes, and to “break the ice” with others.

It has a mild narcotic effect, and it’s use produces a tingly sensation in the mouth and lips, and a relaxed feeling in the body. It has analgesic, antispasmodic, strong nervine, mild anti-depressant, euphoric and aphrodesiac qualities. It can be useful to aid in meditation, as well as increase vividness of dreams and visions.

For more info on this and other plant-medicine ceremonies, please click here.

Kava Kava in a coconut cup
  • Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy and nursing. Avoid operating heavy machinery or vehicles, while using Kava. If taking prescription medications including antidepressants, anxiolytic, hypnotic, analgesic, sedative or psychopharmaceutic drugs, please consult your health care practitioner. Kava should be avoided for individuals on a dopamine antagonist medication to treat Parkinson’s disease.