Scientific name: Piper methysticum
Common names: Kava Kava
Chinese names: ka wa hu jiao
Arabic names: الكافا (Kava)
Rain Forest names:
Family: Piperaceae (Pepper)
Approximate number of species known:
Common parts used: Whole herb, sprouts
Height: Up to 3 metres
Known Constituents: Resin containing 6-stytl-4-methoxy-alpha-pyrone derivatives called kava pyrones or kava lactones (5-9%) including kavain (or kawain), dihydrokavain (DHK), methysticin, dihydromethsticin (DHM), yangonin, desmethoxyyangonin; flavanoids (flavokavains)
leaf length: upto 28cm
Generally considered indigenous to New Guinea and Vanuatu. The leaves are pale green to yellow. The rootstock is sometimes called a ‘stump.’ Some people refer to this as the rhizome, although this is incorrect.
A herb well known to the Pacific Islands, it’s believed that Captain Cook first mentioned the use of this herb as a drink by Native people who used it in ceremony. Kava is well known for its numbing effect on the mouth, and a relaxant effect on the body.
It has been used medicinally in the pacific for different purposes. In Fiji it was used for kidney and bladder trouble, as a diuretic, and as a contraceptive for women who have just given birth.7 In Samoa the root has been to treat gonorrhoea.7
Piper methysticum (Kava) has been withdrawn in European, British, and Canadian markets due to concerns over hepatotoxic reactions. The WHO recently recommended research into “aqueous” extracts of Kava.
This study was conducted to assess the anxiolytic and antidepressant efficacy of an aqueous extract of Kava. The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study was a 3-week placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover trial that recruited 60 adult participants with 1 month or more of elevated generalized anxiety. Five Kava tablets per day were prescribed containing 250 mg of kavalactones/day.
The aqueous extract of Kava reduced participants’ Hamilton Anxiety Scale score in the first controlled phase by -9.9 vs. -0.8 for placebo and in the second controlled phase by -10.3. The pooled effect of Kava vs. placebo across phases was highly significant, with a substantial effect size.
Pooled analyses also revealed highly significant relative reductions in Beck Anxiety Inventory and Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale scores. The aqueous extract was found to be safe, with no serious adverse effects and no clinical hepatotoxicity.
The aqueous Kava preparation produced significant anxiolytic and antidepressant activity and raised no safety concerns at the dose and duration studied. Kava appears equally effective in cases where anxiety is accompanied by depression.
Sarris J, Kavanagh DJ, Byrne G, Bone KM, Adams J, Deed G. “The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS): A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial Using An Aqeous Extract Of Piper Methysticum.” 2009 August http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19430766
Herb Name: Kava kava
Latin name: Piper methysticum
Common part used:
The peeled, dried and divided rhizomes and roots
Kava kava has been used as a ceremonial beverage in the Pacific Islands for thousands of years. It is believed to have originated in Melanesia, and been drunk for hundreds of years by native islanders.
The roots are chewed or ground into a pulp and added to cold water. The resulting thick brew, which has been compared to the social equivalent of wine in France, is typically offered to guests and dignitaries visiting the Pacific Islands.
In addition to its ceremonial purposes, kava is perhaps best known for its relaxing qualities. Kava is said to elevate mood, well-being, and contentment, and produce a feeling of relaxation. Several studies have found that kava may be useful in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and related nervous disorders.
Kava Kava is a bitter, pungent herb that has diuretic properties and helps to increases perspiration, relieves pain and spasms and has anesthetic effects, while it is also used as an aphrodisiac.
It contains styrylpyrones (known as kavapyrones and kavalactones), kawain, methysticin, dihydrokawain, dihydromethysticin, yangonin and desmethoxy-yangonin.
Kava root (which is used in medicinal preparations) comes from a tall shrub that grows in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. 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.
Due to the potential for liver injury, kava should be used only under the guidance of a qualified health care provider. It should not be taken for recreation use.
Anxiety: Kava kava is effective in treating symptoms associated with anxiety. Standardized kava extract was significantly more effective than placebo in treating anxiety. Kava substantially improved symptoms after only 1 week of treatment. Results of clinical studies and the experiences of people using kava suggest that this herb may be as effective as certain anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications
Insomnia: Kava is effective for insomnia, particularly in improving sleep quality and decreasing the amount of time needed to fall asleep.