How do you grow kava and harvest it?
There are very specific conditions that need to be met for the plant to flourish and, while you probably won’t try this at home, it’s good to know where the root that is providing all the goodness in the Taki Mai kava shots comes from!
Kava root origins
Kava root comes from the Piper Methysticum vine-like shrub, which is a relative of the black pepper plant and, while it grows slowly, it can be grown all year round in the right tropical conditions.
It is a leafy green plant that needs the rich soils, warm temperatures, a balance of sunlight and shade and high rainfall amounts that typically bless the tropical Pacific region, where the plant has flourished for centuries.
The combinations of soils and climates combine with the different strains of the Piper Methystium to produce different types of kava with varying properties and potencies across the region; this can lead to inconsistencies in the intensity of the kavalactone content of some kava drinks, prepared from kava root from multiple sources.
Kavalactones are the prime ingredient responsible for the de-stressing effect of the drink.
Taki Mai drinks use only kava grown and harvested on the island Ovalau, Fiji, and therefore providers a beverage with a consistent potency – it is important for most people that the relaxation effect of the drink is predictable and consistent.
Planting Piper Methysticum
Kava plants don’t usually produce seeds and the flowering plants are actually sterile; so cuttings provide the normal method of planting the crop. This means dividing the root-mass or removing offshoots from the root-ball of the plant.
You should plant in an area that receives shade and plenty of water – often surrounding a plantation with taller trees provides good shade and ensures a healthy crop.
Optimum growth of the plant is usually at around 500 to 1000 feet above sea level in tropical areas.
The soil needs to be rich as kava requires plenty of nutrients to grow healthily. Water levels and humidity should be high, but soil should have good drainage as overly wet soil will damage the root system.
The plants should be spaced about 6 feet apart for best results, as this gives them plenty of room to spread their roots.
Growing Piper Methysticum
The best kava comes from 100% organically grown Piper Methysticum, as are the plants in Ovalau.
The plants can grow very tall – between 10 and 20 feet is common – and at their base there is usually an array of roots sprouting in all directions, clearly visible and in the open, as well as underground.
Usually after the Piper Methysticum has been planted, it takes a minimum of 3 to 5 years before any harvest is possible; harvesting too early will damage the plant.
Harvesting the kava root
By “harvesting” we mean taking the roots from the plant – because that is the only part we use in making kava.
It’s best to take lateral roots because this produces the best quality kava and also prevents damage to the plant.
Athough the harvest can be done at any time of year, it then takes another 3 years before the next roots are harvestable from the plant; but some farms only use the first generation root as this is seen as the finest quality.
This entails a careful system of plant rotation, to ensure constant supply of roots and rhizomes.
These are the only parts of the plant that should be harvested and they should be 3 to 6 inches thick at the time of harvest.
Usually the roots are cut into pieces at the kava farm and it will then be sun dried; though it should be allowed to retain some moisture to keep all of its qualities and potency.
With the freeze dry method that Taki Mai drinks use, our kava is kept at maximum potency and freshness so that by the time you come to drink it, it’s like it’s just been harvested!
Growing kava at home!
If you want to grow kava at home in a pot or under glass or plastic, that’s possible, but it takes some green fingers and plenty of guidance in terms of soil mixes, composting, temperature and lighting conditions, as well as when to prune and repot. Good luck!