By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Damiana: What are the Main Differences?

Kava is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as another natural substance, damiana. They are sometimes sold next to each other in health stores, so it’s important to know the differences between kava and damiana.

Location of origin

Kava and damaiana are found in different parts of the world.

While, kava is native to Western Pacific islands such as Fiji, Vanuatu, and Hawaii, damiana is found in southwest U.S, as well as Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.

Plant of origin

Kava is the root of the Piper Methysticum plant, which is part of the pepper family of plants. Its name means ‘intoxicating pepper’.

Damiana comes from Turnera diffusa, a small, wild, woody shrub with small, aromatic flowers.

Usage

Kava is prepared from the dried roots of the plant. It has been used for many centuries, originally as a beverage consumed in important ceremonies and social gatherings. Nowadays it is still used at most important occasions on the Pacific islands, but may be drunk socially or taken as a health supplement in pill, powder, or beverage form.

Damiana stem and leaf was used in the preparation of a traditional Mexican liqueur that was sometimes used in place of triple sec in margaritas. Nowadays it is more often seen dried as a supplement in health stores. The dried leaves are still used to make a cordial type of drink or tea. It is sometimes also smoked recreationally or even inhaled for a slight ‘high’.

Health benefits and after-effects

Kava users feel relaxed, stress-free, and it can also induce sleepiness, but it depends on the kava type and dosage taken.

Kava has been used as a medicine in the western Pacific since recorded history began, especially as a muscle relaxant, sedative, pain reliever, and to aid sleep. It was also used to treat urinary tract infections, and nowadays it has gained prominence as an anti-anxiety treatment that is as effective as prescription drugs but without the harmful side effects.

Damiana was traditionally used in Mexico as a remedy for nervous disorders and as an aphrodisiac. It is celebrated for its positive toning effect on the nervous system and sexual organs, and is also used in the treatment of headaches, bedwetting, and depression.

Potential health risks

Both kava and damiana are safe to use in normal doses and when high quality is maintained.

Dangers to the liver with kava are well-publicised but often exaggerated. Liver problems are extremely rare, and this is even more the case with the type of high-quality kava that is usually sent for export. New standards are being created to protect the industry by maintaining this quality, both in Fiji and across the region.

Damiana has occasionally been associated with convulsions and other symptoms similar to rabies or strychnine poisoning, but only when taken in large amounts (200 grams of extract). It may also affect blood sugar levels in diabetes sufferers.

As you can see, there are plenty of differences between kava and damiana – bear them in mind when you next see them together in your health store.