Kava kava (Piper methysticum)

By: Peter Alley
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Scientific classification
P. methysticum
Binomial name
Piper methysticum

Geographic Distribution

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Plant Background
Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is a tall green shrub that can be found in the islands of the Pacific Ocean, but the true country of origin is unknown. Piper is Latin for pepper and methysticum is Greek for intoxicating. Kava kava has different names throughout the places it can be found. For example, in Fiji it is called yaquona, while in Hawaii it is called awaj. “This shrub produces large, green, heart shaped leaves that grow thickly on the branches. Long, slender flowers grow where the branches meet the stems. The roots look like bundles of woody, hairy branches.” The medicinal properties of this plant can be found in the roots of the plant.

Kava Botany
Kava kava can only grow in tropical areas with the proper amount of shade and moisture. Too much sunlight will harm the kava plant. “It grows naturally where rainfall is plentiful with over 2,000 millimeters, or close to 80-inches per year. Ideal growing conditions range from temperatures of twenty to thirty-five degrees Celsius, or sixty-eight to ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit, with an optimum 70% to 100% relative humidity.” The propagation of the plant relies on the effort of man. This is due to the rarity of female flowers. “The kava plant is propagated from cuttings taken from the lower stems or from the younger stems once separated from the rootstock when the root is harvested.”

Kava Effects/Uses
Kava kava has many beneficial uses in humans. It has been proven to help with muscle relaxation, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. “Kava is a unique anti-anxiety alternative because it does not seem to impair reaction time or alertness when used in proper dosage amounts.” This is something you don’t usually see with other anti-anxiety medications. The effects of kava do have the potential for abuse. When consumed in large amounts it can induce “euphoric state.”
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“Kava kava comes from the Piperaceae family. The Piperaceae are fleshy herbs, soft shrubs, and infrequently small trees comprising 10 genera and 1,400 to 2,000 species. The nodes are commonly swollen or jointed. The leaves are alternate or rarely opposite or whorled, stipules are adnate to petiole or absent. The bisexual, or less commonly unisexual flowers are minute, lack perianth and usually are densely packed into rat-tail like spikes. Each flower is associated with a peltate, umbrella-like bract. The androecium consists of 1-10 stamens. The compound pistil has a superior ovary and consists of 1-5 carpels with a single locule and a solitary basal ovule. The fruit is a berry or drupe.”
external image Piper_nigrum_dsc00198.jpgBlack Pepper (Piper nigrum)
Kava kava is not only used medicinally, but also recreationally. “Kava is an essential and integral part of life in the Pacific Islands often thought of as one of the most precious gifts from the Earth.” Kava is used as a celebratory drink, similar to the way alcohol is. “It helps mark momentous occasions such as weddings, public festivals, political powwows and holidays, and it is even used in ceremonies honoring the dead.” Even though kava is used in the same way as alcohol, it does not have the same negative side effects. The user will not experience a hangover like with alcohol. “Alcohol literally kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, and Kava, when properly harvested, has never actually hurt anyone.”

7 http://www.kava.com