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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

The Ever-Present Kava Bowl: From Politics to Rugby to Surf

Whenever and wherever there is an important event or an esteemed guest arriving in Fiji, a kava bowl won’t be far away. And the more important the guest the larger the kava ceremony.

In the past few weeks, there have been several important events and visitors to the country – and all have received the ‘kava treatment’.

A kava comment causes a stir

First there was the opening of the 2016 World Surf League Fiji Pro tournament in Namotu, Tuvarua. The close relationship between kava and surfing is something that I wrote about previously in this post.

Then the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, recently took up an offer from the Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, to visit Fiji.

He was welcomed in Suva by a 100-strong Guard of Honour and a traditional welcoming ceremony, where he drank kava and was represented with a traditional whale’s tooth.

His visit represented the first visit by a New Zealand Prime Minister in the past decade. Despite having their differences in the past, everything was as cordial as expected around the kava bowl. But all eyes were on the Key’s reaction to the kava…

On a previous visit to the South Pacific in 2010, Keys described the taste of kava as a mixture of muddy water and liniment and then, in answer to the question about what he thought of kava from Vanuata, he replied with the following (to every Fijian’s dismay):

“At the risk of offending them, slightly better than the Fijian kava, and on a par with Samoa.”

Fijian kava is known for its high quality, so this comment caused widespread raising of eyebrows around the Fijian islands, and probably didn’t endear Key to the majority of Fijians.

It was good to see that, though he may not be a kava lover, he still downed a shell from the kava bowl on this visit – as you can see by the picture. But he kept his thoughts on the taste of kava private this time!

Rugby balls and kava bowls

Bill Beaumont, the incoming chairman of World Rugby, was also in town for a committee meeting – the first ever in Fiji, since the World Rugby body was established in 1886!

Beaumont met with the Fijian Prime Minister at the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa and was treated, of course, to a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony around the kava bowl.

As you can see just from the past few weeks, the kava bowl is an ever-present fixture in Fiji – from the halls of government, to the rugby field and out on the sea!

Have you had your shot of kava today?

By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Tea: Closer Than Kava and Beer?

Following on from our recent post about whether kava is a safe alternative to alcohol, we ask the question whether it would be more accurate to compare kava to a cup of tea than a beer or a glass of wine?

The similarities and differences between alcohol and kava were discussed at length in that article. So you know by now that kava is often drunk by people who want to relax or wind down, that there are health-giving properties attached to it, that there are very few after-effects of drinking it, and that it is associated with calm behaviour.

Couldn’t that equally be applied to tea drinking? Or perhaps a cup of coffee? More so than drinking alcohol, which can have the opposite effect and certainly has few health benefits?

An SBS report on kava culture in Australia referred to kava as ‘much like a cup of tea or coffee’ in Pacific Islander culture.

“Kava comes from the root of a pepper plant. It has a distinctive taste and a relaxing and slightly numbing effect. Pacific islanders enjoy sharing kava, much like a cup of tea or coffee in other cultures, but it is drunk in much larger quantities for the effect.”

Tea and coffee culture

As you can see from the image above, a traditional tea ceremony in China or Japan has many similarities to a traditional kava ceremony.

There is much emphasis on ceremony and community, with a specific way of sitting, pouring the tea, and drinking it. Cupping the bowl with both hands is just how Fijians cup the coconut shell full of kava.

You can still see the communal element of tea drinking today in much of Asia, with India, China, and Japan having large numbers of tea drinkers, as well as in the Middle East and in countries like Turkey.

In the west, the English are known for their insatiable tea-drinking appetite. Again it is a very social and hospitable drink, with the offer of a “nice cup of tea” never too far away in an English home. A family will sit around sipping tea with guests and chatting.

A coffee culture also exists in many places around the world, such as Italy, France, Brazil, parts of south-east Asia and Africa, and Australia. Again, coffee-drinking is frequently a communal experience, with a chat over a coffee a common way for people to catch up with each other.

There must be something about the mildly narcotic effects of caffeine and kavalactones that gets people talking and being more sociable!

Safety and health benefits of kava and tea/coffee

The above-mentioned SBS article refers to kava as a “health supplement for export”. The health benefits of kava are briefly discussed in the article, where our very own Zane Yoshida (founder of Taki Mai) has this to say:

“I’ve developed a kava supplement that I currently sell in the United States and Fiji through the natural food channels. This produce here is a kava supplement for taking the edge off, for relaxing,”

“As we progress with clinical trials here in Australia, we’d like to make structure function claims for relieving stress and anxiety.”

The health benefits of tea and coffee, on the other hand, are discussed in this Harvard Medical School article:

“Tea, especially green tea, is often said to be good for your health. Tea contains substances linked to a lower risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes“

“The main health-promoting substances in tea are polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. Lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Harvard-led studies of large groups of people over time have found that tea or coffee drinkers are at lower risk for diabetes and possibly cardiovascular disease. Coffee also contains polyphenols.”

Kava, tea and coffee could all be classed as minor narcotics for the compounds they contain. But all are widely drunk in different parts of the world as part of a communal experience; and not only are they considered safe, many consider them health-enhancing.

That is why, if you want to draw comparisons between kava and another common drink, then coffee or tea may be a more likely candidate than beer, whisky or wine.

By Zane Yoshida

Welcome to Fiji – Welcome to VIP Kava

VIP kava has been used by Fijians down the centuries to welcome their guests!

Fiji is known as the “friendliest place in the world” and, whether it is the Queen of England, the Pope, the President of the USA, or a Hollywood celebrity, a traditional welcome drink of kava is guaranteed. To us, it’s a way of saying “we are glad you have visited and will do everything we can to make you feel comfortable here.”

The traditional kava welcome

In the past a traditional welcome would entail a full sevu sevu ceremony. Guests take their place on a locally woven mat in a semi-circle arrangement, facing the chief. Everyone must dress modestly, keep their heads lower than the chief’s at all times, and point their feet away from him.

A bowl of kava sits in front of the chief. When it’s time to drink, the chief drinks first. When the bilo or coconut shell is refilled and passed around, the guest claps once with cupped hands and says “bula” as a sign of gratitude. Then he or she takes the bilo in both hands and raises it to the lips, drinking the contents in one go. Then the shell is handed back, the guest claps three times, and says “bula” again.

A modern welcome at the Fiji Hilton

This ritual is still performed when guest of honour visit or when a special event is taking place. But hotels and resorts in Fiji have started to get creative and use modern alternatives so that the ancient traditions are preserved for their guests.

The Hilton Fiji Beach Resort on Denarau Island recently confirmed that Taki Mai shots are now the welcome drink at the resort for VIP guests.

This is one of the top resorts in the South Pacific and it is a proud moment for Taki Mai as our VIP kava become an official part of the welcoming ceremony for guests to the country.

 

By Zane Yoshida

Kava Shots Fit For a Queen!

If you get them right, kava shots can be fit for royalty!

In 1954, the Queen of England visited Fiji, 2 years after her coronation. You can see the video of that event here.

Queen Elizabeth II was greeted in the traditional Fijian way with a kava ceremony – which has been the way that foreign dignitaries have been honoured for centuries in Fiji. When the first kava “cup” was offered to the Queen and she lifted it to her lips and drank, she was returning the honor to Fiji.

Since then numerous members of Royal families have tasted kava in Fiji.

  Read more

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Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences
The Ever-Present Kava Bowl: From Politics to Rugby to Surf
Kava and Tea: Closer Than Kava and Beer?
Welcome to Fiji – Welcome to VIP Kava
Kava Shots Fit For a Queen!