Kava: an up-close look at the source of this beloved plant

kava.png

We have some mixed news for you kava lovers out there: for the time being, we are discontinuing our line of the freeze-dried capsules, but while the remaining supplies last, we’re offering 50% off!

vanuatu pam 2.jpg
vanuatu pam.jpg

Kava imports have been in very short supply in recent years due to a massive category 5 cyclone by the name of Pam that ripped through the Pacific Islands in March of 2015, devastating Vanuatu and taking out nearly a third of its kava crops (1). According to World Bank, Pam was the largest cyclone in recorded history to ever make landfall in the Pacific (2). Entire villages were swept away, infrastructure destroyed, and the economy left in shambles.

Much of Vanuatu’s economy relies on kava. At its peak in 2013, kava exports had reached 834 million vatu ($7.7 million) (1), making it the third largest export commodity of the South Pacific island nation (3). But even more importantly, kava is a cultural icon for the people of Vanuatu. It is consumed at nearly every major event or ceremony throughout the region, used as a social lubricant and a spiritual experience (1). Like most psychoactive plants, kava has been used in ritual to connect with ancestral spirits and the divine (4).

kava plant.jpg
vanuatu map 2.PNG

For those of you less familiar with kava, it is a tropical plant whose root is brewed into a murky-looking tea. The taste is quite bitter, and it almost instantly makes the mouth go numb. The reason it is so prized is that it has a special ability to alleviate worry. It has a long history of use among tribes of the Pacific islands that spans over 3,000 years, and its stress-relieving effects are well-documented in scientific literature (5). This effect is due to kava’s propensity to soothe brain waves, which makes it no surprise that it was traditionally used by indigenous tribes in coming together for important ceremonies and meetings. Kava has a unique way of calming the nerves, sharpening the mind, and helping us better relate to one another. There’s even preliminary evidence that supports its use as a sleep aid (6).

In more recent years, kava has somehow reached the mainstream, and chic kava bars are popping up in major cities all across the country. No longer just for the hippie and new-age crowds of western countries, strong kava brews are now being sought out by anyone seeking an alternative to alcohol and coffee.

How is it prepared?

preparing_the_kava.jpg

When the root is chewed or ground, it releases kavalactones. These chemicals have been found to promote relaxation of the mind and muscles, relieve pain, and support withdrawal symptoms (6). Though it was traditionally consumed by chewing the root, spitting it out, and mixing it with cold water, more modern preparations involve grinding the root, mixing with water, and straining through a fine mesh sieve. It can then be mixed with other flavors - pineapple and coconut are some common preparations!

Portland’s Bula Kava House boasts an extensive menu of kava varieties from Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji, with distinctive tasting notes and claimed effects. It provides a stylish and relaxing ambience that invites you to stick around and socialize. However, one need not go out to experience the benefits of this spectacular herb. While supplies last, we offer a very unique product called Kava “Nakamal”. Nakamal is a Vanuatuan word used to describe a meeting place where kava is prepared and consumed in its traditional manner. We start with sourcing only the highest quality mature lateral roots harvested at peak potency from pristine soil of Vanuatu. From those, we extract the juice, which is then immediately freeze-dried to preserve all the active compounds, and encapsulated for convenient usage. Our staff chemist analyzes the kavalactones through high-performance liquid chromatography, in order to verify the highest potency possible.

  Levels of kavalactones in our Kava Nakamal, as measured in our in-house chemistry lab.

Levels of kavalactones in our Kava Nakamal, as measured in our in-house chemistry lab.

We owe a lot of gratitude to the Pacific island communities for sharing such a beloved plant to the larger herbal community. Our hearts and minds are with the people of Vanuatu and surrounding areas as they continue to recover from Cyclone Pam. We admire their resiliency in such catastrophic situations, and wish all the best to the farmers and business people during this rebuilding period. We are hopeful that we can one day regain access to this spectacular herb, so that we can continue to pass it along to our customers. In the meantime, please enjoy our offer of 50% off all our remaining stock!

 

References:

  1. Vanuatu: Six Months after Cyclone Pam. World Bank. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/09/29/vanuatu-six-months-after-cyclone-pam. Published September 29, 2015. Accessed January 11, 2018.

  2. Coates S. Kava crisis as Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu cultural crop. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-weather-vanuatu-kava/kava-crisis-as-cyclone-pam-devastates-vanuatu-cultural-crop-idUSKBN0MG0DF20150320. Published March 20, 2015. Accessed January 11, 2018.

  3. Vanuatu National Kava Strategy 2016-2025: Green Gold. Vanuatu Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Accessed January 10, 2018.

  4. Lebot V, Merlin MD, Lindstrom L. Kava, the Pacific Elixir: the definitive guide to its ethnobotany, history and chemistry. Rochester: Healing Arts Press; 1997.

  5. Pittler, Max H., and Edzard Ernst. “Efficacy of Kava Extract for Treating Anxiety: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, vol. 20, no. 1, 2000, pp. 84–89., doi:10.1097/00004714-200002000-00014.

  6. Ehrlich, Steven. “Kava kava.” University of Maryland Medical Center, www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/kava-kava.