What is Kava?

What is kava

What is Kava - From the Ground up

What is Kava? Lets start from the ground up! Kava is a root plant. Its proper name is Piper Methysticum. The name Kava derives from the Tongan language meaning bitter. The following are some facts and info about the appearance and makeup of Piper Methysticum:

  • It has light-green, heart-shaped leaves.
  • The leaves are typically 30cm in length.
  • Male plants sprout flowers.
  • Female flowers are extremely rare.
  • Only the root of Kava plans is safe for consumption.
  • Kava plants grow to an average height of 6ft.

Kava root is the part used for drinks and powder. Also, in some cultures, they use the whole root. However, in other cultures like Fiji, different parts of the root have different purposes.

The Waka is the lateral root. It extends from the Lewena and sits underground. Waka roots have a much higher kavalactone content. As a result, Waka Kava is more potent, and has a bitter taste.

The Lewena is the main Kava root. It is also underground, but is only one root, from which the Waka roots sprout from. Lewena Kava has a lower kavalactone content. As a result, it has a milder taste and less potency.

The effects from Kava are due to kavalactones. These are a lactone compound that are responsible for creating the psychotropic effects of Kava drinks. People usually measure the potency of Kava based on its kavalactone content.

Where Does Kava Grow?

Now that you understand “what is kava”, we can look at its dispersion. It originates from the Pacific Islands. Since then, it imports across the world in both its root and powdered form. The following are countries where Kava is natively grown:

It grows in tropical areas. To flourish, it requires shade and moist conditions. The best plants grow well in well-drained soil. Also, it grows the best in climates with an average rainfall of over 2000ml per year.

Moreover, temperatures must range between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. Finally, optimum humidity is 70%. Where Kava grows, the soil is always loose. As a result, this ensures a sufficient air supply and prevents rot from too much water.

Cultivars are responsible for the spread of Kava. It is only propagated by hand and is not known to widely reproduce. This is due to the rarity of female Kava flowers.

What is kava kava leaf

How is Kava Prepared?

Next in our what is Kava guide we look at how people prepare it. In the Pacific Islands, they still use Kava root. However, in western countries and Australia, Kava powder is the main form. Below, we look at some examples of different Kava preparation.


In Fiji, Kava is usually prepared as part of the Yaqona ceremony. A master of ceremonies uses dried Kava root and grinds it into a pulp. They may strain it through a traditional strainer bag too or knead the mixture. They add water and the kava usually mixes in a large bowl. Finally, they distribute it to the ceremonial group. Each person takes a drink. Kava in Fiji is normally made into a dried kava powder prior to preperation.


In the United States, they use Kava mostly in its powder form. Companies process Kava on a large scale into powder. It is therefore rarely used in its root form.

Individuals usually buy Kava as a powder and simply mix it with water or other ingredients making a Kava drink. Popular Kava bars in the USA will also use it as a powder.


In Micronesia the process is incredibly ritualistic. First, they lay Kava root on a large stone taken from a nearby river. They then pound the roots in a rhythmic beat. Next, they add water, and mix with a hibiscus plant to release the juices. Finally, the squeeze the kava out of the hibiscus plant into a bowl to be drunk.


In Vanuatu, the process differs slightly. Traditionally, they cut the root, and break into small pieces. Then, children or young women chew the root and spit it into a bowl. Also, it mixes with coconut water or coconut milk.

The chewing helps release active ingredients of the Kava. Once the root mixes with the water or milk, they strain and squeeze it. They do this through a coconut fibre. Finally, they dilute it with clean water and serve in a coconut shell for drinking.

Why is Kava Used?

The next part of our what is Kava guide is why is it used? People use Kava for various reasons. It is a recreational item. But it is also used as part of deep cultural ceremonies and traditions. Others use Kava for wellness and to help with a variety of conditions.


‣ For ceremonial reasons

In countries like Fiji, Kava is a ceremonial drink. The Kava ceremony in Fiji is a fantastic thing to behold. A ceremony leader gives Kava to participants sitting in a circle. Each participant takes turn to empty a bowl of Kava. Also, it is a mark of disrespect if you refuse a drink.

The Kava ceremony in Fiji is the best-known example. However, other Pacific Nation countries have their own ceremonies and traditions too.

‣ As a social tonic

Throughout the world, people enjoy Kava as a social drink. Also, the effects Kava instils are something people enjoy. It often replaces alcohol as a safer social tonic without the negative side effects of a hangover.

People drink Kava at bars. Friends will gather to enjoy Kava together. It is a very social thing that helps relaxation and often instils a pleasant sense of euphoria.

‣ As part of culture & traditions

As mentioned above, the use of Kava is deep-seated in traditions. These traditions are prevalent in Pacific Nations where the root originates from. In countries like Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga, people drink Kava daily. It is part of their routine, and part of their culture.

‣ As part of a wellness regime

Finally, many people drink Kava due to its potential health benefits. For example, Kava helps with anxiety and stress relief. Taking Kava tablets or tinctures can reduce these ailments. Also, it has potential to help with insomnia, muscle pains, and fatigue.

The Future of Kava

We have now answered the question of what is Kava. But what can we expect for the future of this root? The future of Kava looks bright indeed and we can deduce this by three main factors listed below:

Many countries are looking at their current Kava laws and the control of this plant. It is still illegal to import and trade in many parts of the world. However, as it grows in popularity, governments must look at their laws and adapt with change.

As the research and scientific information about Kava improves, the negative backlash it sometimes receives is lessened. This gives governments greater reason and purpose to legalize Kava and change their stance on the plant.

We can see this in Australia, for example. The government  has recently made changes to kava importations laws. This has allowed reputable kava suppliers such as Australia Kava Shop both import and sell kava in Australia. 

Aside from an increase in acceptance, companies are experiment with new Kava products with great success. In ages past, Kava was only drunk. Whilst Kava drinks are still prevalent, there is a variety of new products available.

For example, we have Kava milkshakes, supplements, and tinctures. Also, Kava tablets are popular and used like a daily vitamin supplement. Also, fun new products like Kava chocolate and Kava Cola are find their way into the market.

An increase in creativity and variety of products can only be a positive thing for the Kava industry. 

Finally, the future of Kava is on the up as its popularity increases. In the past, Kava had limits to the Pacific Nations like Fiji, Vanuatu, and Micronesia. Today, however, it is seeing worldwide usage.

It is popular in many areas of the world like North America, and Oceania. As discussed above, this increase in popularity can only be good for the Kava industry.