Kava is a member of the pepper family and is native to many Pacific Ocean islands. The rhizome (underground stem) is used.

A nonalcoholic drink made from the root of kava played an important role in a variety of ceremonies in the Pacific islands, including welcoming visiting royalty, at meetings of village elders, or as part of social gatherings. Kava was valued both for its mellowing effects and to encourage socializing. It was also noted for initiating a state of contentment, a greater sense of well-being, and enhanced mental acuity, memory, and sensory perception. Kava has also been used traditionally to treat pain.

Active constituents of Kava

The kava-lactones, sometimes referred to as kava-pyrones, are important active constituents in kava herbal extracts. High-quality kava rhizome contains 5.5–8.3% kava-lactones. Medicinal extracts used in Europe contain 30–70% kava-lactones. Kava-lactones may have antianxiety, mild analgesic (pain-relieving), muscle-relaxing, and anticonvulsant effects. Some researchers speculate that kava may directly influence the limbic system, the ancient part of the brain associated with emotions and other brain activities. Double blind studies have validated the effectiveness of kava for people with anxiety, including menopausal women.

How much Kava is usually taken?

Some doctors of natural medicine suggest the use of kava extracts supplying 200–250 mg of kava-lactones per day in two or three divided doses. Alternatively (although it has not been researched), 1–3 ml of fresh liquid kava tincture can be taken three times per day. Kava should not be taken for more than three months without the advice of a physician, according to the German Commission E monograph.

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