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By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences

Kava is often compared to, and sometimes confused with, kratom. You also see kava and kratom next to each other on health food stores the world over.

But there are some important differences between the two…

Location of origin

First things first; kava and kratom originate from different geographical locations and cultural backgrounds.

Kava hails from the Western Pacific islands like Fiji, Vanuatu, and Hawaii, where it has been interwoven into the fabric of the culture since the beginning of the region’s recorded history.

Kratom, on the other hand, is found in Southeast Asia. It is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc., where it has also been used by the native populations for many years.

Plant of origin

Kava (Piper Methysticum) and kratom (Mitragyna speciose) come from different families of plants – and different parts of the plants are used in their preparation.

Whereas the kava plant is part of the pepper family of plants (its name means ‘intoxicating pepper’), kratom comes from a tropical, evergreen plant in the coffee family.

The preparation of kava is from the roots of the plant, whereas kratom is prepared from the leaves of its plant.

Traditional and modern usage

Kava was traditionally used as a beverage in important ceremonies and to greet visitors, as well as for various health purposes. It was used in religious ceremonies where the village chief might contact the ancestors. Nowadays it is drunk in social gatherings to relax and unwind; it is usually taken either in traditional beverage form, as a pill supplement, or mixed with water from a powder.

Kratom leaves are still sometimes chewed but are more commonly taken in their dried and powdered form, mixed into water to create a cold beverage or the leaves are made into a tea.

Effects of taking it

Both kava and kratom can induce a sense of euphoria, and may boost energy levels; however, kava may also induce feelings of sleepiness, depending on the type and dosage of the kava taken.

Kratom is a psychoactive drug that can boost energy and make people more socially active; larger doses may also act as a sedative.

Health benefits

Kava and Kratom both have effects that lead to recreational use and use for health purposes. Both have long been used as medicine in the native populations, with workers using kratom as a stimulant to relieve exhaustion and pain, and kava being taken as a relaxant, sedative, pain reliever, and to aid sleep.

Nowadays, kava is well proven to relieve stress and is an alternative anti-anxiety treatment; other uses include treatment for muscle pain and it may even be used in cancer treatment in the future.

Potential dangers and health risks

Kava is gaining more widespread acceptance around the world as its health benefits are increasingly being shown to outweigh the risks –  especially as an anti-anxiety treatment. Dangers to the liver have been well-publicised but are greatly dependent upon the type and amount of kava taken; the vast majority of people who take high quality kava in moderate doses have no problems.

Kratom, on the other hand, is generally more frowned upon and, in many places, regulations are tightening. In the U.S., there is currently a legal battel over a ban. There is less scientific study on kratom than kava, but it is known that Kratom interacts with the brain differently to kava. It behaves more like an opiate drug, whereas kava works on the GABA receptors; it also stimulates the serotonin and norepinephrine receptors, whereas kava stimulates the dopamine receptors.

This means that kratom can be addictive, unlike kava. It has even been used to wean people off heroine, which may be one of the reasons why it has a more negative reputation than kava.

There you go – kava and kratom in a nutshell! As you can see, there are quite a few similarities, but a couple of important differences to bear in mind.

By Zane Yoshida

Kava Culture: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Kava

As kava culture becomes more popular around the world, people become more acquainted with its history and its usage.

But there are still some elements of our enigmatic root that surprise people. Here are a few things you may not know…

  1. It was chewed by virgins

Kava has been an important part of Fijian culture for many centuries. This was the case well before Europeans arrived in the South Pacific. As part of the traditional preparation of kava, the fresh root was required to be peeled and chewed by young virgin girls before it was mixed with water and fermented in the tanoa (kava bowl). It was then served by women – who were not allowed to drink it.

  1. Kava is related to pepper

The full name of the plant bearing the roots that make kava is piper methysticum, which is a member of the pepper family that also includes black pepper. Only the root is used in making kava – no leaves or stem. While it won’t make you sneeze, it will produce a pleasant numbing and relaxing effect!

  1. It’s been used in the Vatican

Kava has made it round most of the world, but there are some places you would not expect it to make an appearance. Believe it or not, there has been a kava session in the Vatican. A group of travelers from the Pacific arranged this towards the end of 2015; but perhaps we should not be too surprised at this – considering Pope John Paul II sampled a shell of kava in Fiji in 1986.

  1. It’s been used as a medicine for centuries

Pacific islanders have used kava as medicine through the ages. You probably know about its use in anxiety relief, stress relief, and insomnia; but did you know that it has been used to combat a wide range of health problems such as arthritis pain and muscle tension, rheumatism, genito-urinary tract infections, asthma, worms and parasites, headaches, and various skin diseases?

  1. Your ‘kava drink’ may not contain much kava

As the relaxation beverage industry takes off, there are many drinks now available that are touted as ‘kava drinks’. The truth is that they may not contain much kava – check ingredients for melatonin, valerian, and tryptophan, which may be added with kava.

The wild world of kava contains many surprises – how many of the above did you know?

By Zane Yoshida

Kava and New Zealand: A Blossoming Relationship

Kava and New Zealand have always had a close relationship – but it is now beginning to ‘blossom’.

We reported recently about the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, arriving in Fiji to a traditional kava ceremony. But it goes well beyond this.

With the proximity of New Zealand to the island nations of the South Pacific, such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga, it is no surprise that a large number of ‘islanders’ have chosen New Zealand as their home.

In fact, around 7.5 percent of the country’s 4.6 million people identify with South Pacific ethnic groups. This makes it one of the ‘kava centres’ of the world.

Importance of kava in New Zealand

If you know any Pacific islanders you will also know that, wherever they go, their kava follows them closely behind! Its calming, relaxing properties are seen as a vital cultural connection with the power to put people back in touch with their island homes; and drinking kava is as much of a social routine for many NZ-based islanders as it is when they are back in their ‘spiritual home’.

The kava bowl is never very far away yet, in New Zealand, like in most western countries, its use has traditionally been restricted largely to the migrant communities.

Not anymore. Kava is making inroads into other communities, crossing cultural divides, just like in the US, Australia, and elsewhere. Misconceptions still exist about kava and its effects, as well as with the importance of quality, though.

Raising the profile of kava in New Zealand

The recent Fine Food New Zealand trade expo in Auckland included kava-based products, in recognition that it has become more ‘mainstream’. This is part of an attempt to promote more Pacific-grown products in the local and global markets. Exposure at this international food trade show also helps to educate the market about the noble kava varieties available.

Amongst many other Pacific products, Taki Mai flavoured kava supplements were showcased and, we are delighted to say, they went down a storm!

Joe Fuavao, of Pacific Trade & Invest and the Produce Company, noted that the kava shots had become a ‘crowd favourite’:

“It’s been a real a winner. I think a lot of people have been quite curious about the effects of Kava. They’re used to seeing it in powder form so now seeing the product packaged and well presented is certainly generating the interest amongst a lot of the cafes and bars.

“A lot of the cafe owners, the restaurateurs that have come across our stand – they’ve seen the word Pacific and started to have a look at what we have on offer,”

So, you may be seeing Taki Mai kava shots in more cafes and bars around New Zealand in the very near future.

By Zane Yoshida

Cyclone Pam and the Effects on Kava Production

The devastation caused by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu back in March of this year, has also hit kava production on the islands.

While the rebuilding process has started to piece the country back together, following one of the worst natural disasters in Vanuatu’s history, the kava farmers and the industry as a whole may take longer to recover.

Kava is a slow-growing crop that generally takes between three and six years to mature. So there is no “quick fix” for the loss felt by the local farmers and the damage it has done to the economy of Vanuatu.

Coping with the devastation

Even in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, kava was a comfort for many locals, as they came to terms with what had happened to their home. Reuters reported the following:

“Ignoring calls to stay at home, men were gathering among the debris of blasted trees and twisted corrugated iron to swap news of the storm over a drink of kava, a mildly intoxicating brew that is deeply embedded in the social fabric of Pacific islanders.”

Between 11 and 15 people lost their lives because of the cyclone; the country was thankful it wasn’t more, with massive damage caused across the chain of islands, which lie to the west of Fiji.

Damage to kava production

Reuters also reported about the “devastated kava crop”, which is “a major export and vital source of cash for subsistence farmers in the South Pacific island nation.” Prime Minister Joe Natuman said:

“The economy will be seriously affected. The tourism sector will be affected … Kava will also be affected.”

A Radio Australia report estimated that 96 per cent of the country’s root crops were damaged, according to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. Damage to the kava crop was estimated by Vincent Lebot, a French geneticist based in Vanuatu, who suggested that about a third of the country’s crop had been destroyed.

The southern island of Tanna was particularly severely hit. The following comment from Lebot shows how far-reaching the impact of the kava crop is in the South Pacific:

“The impact will be very severe on the local economy. Many children continue to go to school because their parents pay the school fees thanks to kava.”

Cultural effects

Because kava is deeply embedded in the fabric of South Pacific life, damage to its availability also affects the region culturally and spiritually.

As well as being a much-loved social drink, and a way of bringing parties together to talk, kava has long been the drink of chiefs and spiritual leaders in the region. According to Apo Aporosa, from New Zealand’s Massey University:

“Kava is the dominant cultural icon for Pacifica people and the icon of identity for them…When a child is born, kava is presented and for a lot of Pacifica people, they believe that if you fail to do that, the child’s life is cursed.”

Ronnie’s Nakamal, a particularly well-known kava bar in the capital, Port Vila, was razed to the ground by the cyclone. This bar was a 28-year stalwart of the kava scene, with owner Ronnie Watson introducing the delights of kava to countless tourists and expats, as well as locals. The Australian reported:

“The only thing left standing is a big, white freezer with a drum of kava inside that had been mixed the night before.”

There were over 100 kava bars in Port Vila before the cyclone. Kava in Vanuatu is known for being stronger than in Fiji, because the locals there usually drink it without drying the root first. This means that it can be a little “unpredictable”.

With the recent devastation from the cyclone, the whole of the kava industry in Vanuatu is set to become a little unpredictable. Best wishes for a quick recovery!

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Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences
Kava Culture: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Kava
Kava and New Zealand: A Blossoming Relationship
Cyclone Pam and the Effects on Kava Production
Kava as a Gift in the Season of Giving