Kava and valerian root are often mentioned in the same breath when it comes to stress relief.
They are mixed together in anti-energy drinks, which are becoming more popular on the shelves of mini-markets the world over. But which one is a better stress and anxiety reliever and what other differences are there between the two types of root?
Valerian (Valeriana officianalis) is a flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. Its root has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, usually after having been macerated and dehydrated into a powdered form.
People nowadays generally use it in capsule form as a dietary supplement and to promote relaxation, as it has been proven to have sedative effects; Native American Indians used to treat insomnia with it. Some use it as an alternative to diazepam for short-term stress-relief.
The active ingredient in valerian root is valerenic acid – a mild tranquiliser. The effect is to work as a muscle relaxant and to reduce blood pressure responsiveness and heart rate during stress, promoting a feeling of calmness.
The first thing you’ll notice about valerian is its distinctive odour; this makes it difficult for some people to take.
If you do take it you will begin to feel its sedative properties; side effects of taking too much can be drowsiness, dizziness and impaired co-ordination.
Many off-the-shelf relaxation beverages use powdered valerian root as an additive, but tests on the drinks have shown that quantities (and therefore strength of the beverage) vary greatly from bottle to bottle, even within the same line.
Kava root supplements
Kava (Piper methysticum) is usually taken in tablet form in the west; but traditionally the plant root from which it is derived has been prepared by adding cold water and making it into a drink .
This has been used for thousands of years in the Pacific islands as a social ‘lubricant’, a ceremonial drink and as a medicine.
The effects of kava are similar to those from valerian root and it is well known for its calming effects on the mind and body – the active ingredient is the kavalactones, which bind to the same receptor as valerian. It is proven to be a good alternative to diazepam as a natural short-tern stress reliever.
Kava drinkers will also tell you that they experience added mental clarity and patience, which contrasts with many pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for anxiety.
You will experience numbness of the lips and tongue after drinking kava, but there are no other side effects when used in moderation.
Liver toxicity from traditionally prepared kava is almost unheard of, though you may read some press stories about a powdered form in Europe, where it has suffered a ban in the past. It’s important to note that, according to the World Health Organization, this kava was not prepared using only cold water-extraction in the traditional way.
All up, the similarities between kava and valerian are probably more noticeable than their differences.
A good tip is to make sure that you know what is in your stress relief supplements. Taki Mai drinks use only traditionally prepared and freeze-dried kava from one location in Fiji – meaning you experience a natural and predictable relaxation effect every time.