Above you see the picture of some kava root. That’s the important part of the kava plant – not the leaves or stem. That’s what’s in the Taki Mai kava supplement you are holding your hands!
It’s important to make that distinction – because the traditional beverages that have been drunk for thousands of years across the Pacific islands are made with only kava root, not the leaves.
Just like a potato, beet or a carrot – it’s what’s below the ground that counts!
The kava plant itself
Kava or Yaquona originates from the Piper Methysticum plant.
“Piper Methysticum” means “intoxicating pepper” and it is a large, green-leaved shrub that resembles a vine and can reach heights of up to seven meters, though two to three meters is more typical.
It’s very slow growing and ideal conditions are usually found in tropical areas around 300 to 500 meters above sea level, where it grows all year round. It needs to grow in very rich soil because it quickly depletes soil of its nutrients and likes humidity and regular watering.
This is what produces the fine and lush looking plant that you see. But that’s not the part of the plant that people are interested in – it’s never consumed by Pacific Islanders.
In fact, eating the leaves may even cause problems of toxicity – and it has been suspected that some of the bad press kava has received in the past from Europe may have been due to preparations involving other parts of the plant than the pure root.
The magic happens below the ground!
Below the ground is the kava root system and stump where all the goodness is hiding. Back in 1880 John King published this description of the root:
“The root of Piper Methysticum has a pleasant, somewhat lilac odor, and a slightly pungent, bitter, and astringent taste, and which augments the salivary discharge.”
Doesn’t make it sound great, does it?
Anyway, before the root arrives in a drink, it is traditionally dried in the sun, before being pounded into a pulp, through which cold water is strained to make the muddy-colored drink you may have seen in pictures.
Nowadays, in most kava drinks sitting on supermarket shelves in the US or elsewhere, the kava will have been commercially dried, exported as a powder and then added locally to make the bottled drinks.
For Taki Mai kava, the root is harvested and freeze-dried on site in Ovalau (no long journey times to a factory) which helps to retain all the goodness and nutrients, before being exported.
What’s in kava root?
So why is kava so sought-after in the Pacific and why does it give you that nice, relaxing sensation when you drink it?
And how come the root has been used in traditional medicine for treating urinary tract infections, venereal diseases and headaches, as well as for all types of anti-inflammatory medication?
Well, the root is a starchy brown mass covered by a thick “bark”, which grows horizontally underground; it contains 15 different types of active ingredients called kavalactones, which are psychoactive substances.
Six of them have been found to be mainly responsible for producing the sedative, relaxing effects that kava is known for; they are also responsible for effects that are similar to benzodiazepine medications, with their muscle relaxant, anesthetic and anticonvulsive properties.
The problem is that concentrations of kavalactones do vary – and that’s why some drinks vary in strength; it’s why we harvest all our kava for our drinks from one island where the strain of kava is known and has predictable qualities.
Now you know about the kava plant… it’s time to enjoy the best bit of it!