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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

Sweet Dreams With Kava?

Always wanted to get a picture of a cute sleeping puppy into a blog post! Bear with me – it’s relevant!

The SquareRut Kava Bar in Austin, Texas, is frequented by many University students, because of kava’s reputation for increasing mental prowess and focus while studying.

But, with kava being kava, it also has an almost reverse quality that many people crave. Rather than aiding mental clarity, they take it to send them to sleep – and to dream.

Scott Pingel, owner of The SquareRut Kava Bar says:

“It will relax you but make you more productive. Your dreams will be vivid and you’ll remember them.”

Kava’s sedative qualities

Kava is not technically a sedative, and may not be what you are looking for if you have serious insomnia. Sleep problems may be complicated and can be down to a wide variety of reasons – both physical and psychological.

However, kava is generally classified as hypnotic and is well-known to decrease anxiety, which is nearly always a hindrance to good sleep. The National Institutes of Health in the U.S. even suggests that kava may be as effective as benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax (which are sedatives) for promoting calmness and rest.

This may explain many observational reports of kava users experiencing deeper sleep.

If we go back to its origins in the South Pacific, we also see that kava’s soothing, soporific effects have been used medicinally to treat sleeplessness for centuries. So you might like to try it as a safe and natural alternative to reaching for the sleeping pills.

Crazy dreams?

Kava has also developed a reputation for promoting vivid and bizarre dreams, as Scott Pingel suggests. If you scour the online forums there are plenty of stories of ‘crazy’ dreams from people who use kava – but in a positive way, not a negative way.

This is probably related to the fact that kava can induce deeper sleep – which is precisely when dreams tend to abound. We all dream – and the inability to remember dreams is what people often mean they say ‘I don’t dream’.

But with kava, the general consensus (without any scientific proof, mind) is that people can recall their dreams better.

Having trouble sleeping? That puppy’s not! Try a few of our kava shots and you might just sleep a little deeper and remember more of your dreams!

By Zane Yoshida

A Herbalist’s View of Kava

It’s always interesting to read opinions and attitudes towards kava. Speak to most South Pacific islanders and they will almost certainly have a positive view of it; but we are also starting to see plenty of positive write ups on kava from people in the west who have studied its properties, and perhaps enjoy an occasional tipple (or chew) themselves.

Michigan-based herbalist Jim McDonald includes a long write up on kava on his herbcraft website, with some interesting observations that cover most of the reasons why we in the South Pacific have been taking it for centuries.

Read the full post for his complete view, but some of his observations are included below.

“Nature’s most exquisite gift”

“Kava falls into a class uniquely its own. I know of no other herb like it (nothing I’ve ever come across could even remotely qualify as a “substitute” for kava), and consider it one of the nature’s most exquisite gifts.”

“Best enjoyed intentionally”

“I’ve always felt kava is best enjoyed intentionally, and not as just a part of a daily supplement routine.”

“Primarily suited to treating acute stress”

“Kava is, in my opinion, primarily suited to treating acute stress that settles into the musculature of the body. It is most effective when your mind is overwhelmed and your body is tightly strung from a crazy hectic day and that’s what’s making you unable to relax.”

“Lying on a sunny beach with nothing pressing to do”

“The best way I can describe the effects of kava kava is to compare it to lying on a sunny beach with nothing pressing to do or think about and being so laid back it feels as if you’ve sunk halfway into the sand.  Kava puts you there.”

“Mental acuity remains”

“What is so distinct about kava kava is that it’s so promptly and significantly relaxant; mental stress subsides as a result of relaxation, not sedation.  In fact, while the body lets go, mental acuity remains…you can definitely take kava and still be cognitively functional.”

“After-work drink”

“It is a perfect replacement for (and a much better option to) the archetypal “after work drink”.

“Induce a peaceful spirit”

“Studying island traditions surrounding the plant reinforces the notion of kava’s ability to induce a peaceful spirit.”

“Hate cannot exist in the presence of kava

“It is said that “hate cannot exist in the presence of kava”. While this may be an ideological overstatement, kava is clearly a plant of friendship and camaraderie.”

“A little goes a long way”

“Be responsible, start at low doses and get a feel for how you react to it… some people seem to be especially sensitive to kava and so a little goes a long way.”

McDonald also comments on the “adverse event reports” about kava from a few years ago, which led to the European ban. He provides a great breakdown of the reasons for the complications with the kava in question:

“It now appears that the cause was threefold:

“First (and this is perhaps the main cause), kava leaves and stems were used instead of or in addition to the root, and these parts of the plant contain a liver toxic alkaloid, pipermethystine, not present in the root….Second, there may be a problem with the highly concentrated Kava extracts being marketed nowadays…Third, European extracts use toxic solvents like hexane and acetone.

He adds, pointedly:

“You can’t make claims about the safe historical usage of a plant and apply it to weird, modern, solvent laden extractions that have never been used before.”

McDonald also includes a run-down of some of the ways he and other herbalists use kava in herbal medicine and ways in which it is prepared.

“Personally, chewing small pieces of the root has come to be my favorite way to use it, though admittedly some don’t share my appreciation for its flavor.  There are also some rather strong fibers in the root that require spitting out.”

We like to save you from having to spit anything out! You can enjoy pure, high quality kava in Taki Mai shot, powder, or capsule form.

By Zane Yoshida

Is Kava a Safe Alternative to Alcohol?

During a recent debate about kava safety in Australia, Zane Yoshida, founder of Taki Mai, said:

“We definitely deserve to have kava as part of our traditional cultural practices, even in Australia…If anything, it has been a positive influence on the Fijian community, even the youth in Australia, as an alternative to alcohol.”

If the subject of kava safety crops up in the media, a debate about whether kava is a safe alternative to alcohol is usually not far away. But is this claim true?

Earlier this year in Australia, there were claims that organised gangs of Tongans were smuggling kava into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, where alcohol is banned. The federal government was even considering a ban on the kava in Australia, but fortunately this never happened.

The authorities have hopefully woken up to the fact that banning a natural product that does a lot of good in the community wasn’t the way to address the small amount of problems it causes amongst people who use it irresponsibly.  An immediate comparison with the problems that alcohol causes would show the absurdity of banning it.

Nobody would consider banning over-the-counter pain relievers because a few people misuse them and take an overdose, would they?

Imagine if a study was done to compare the relative health effects of kava against alcohol: the pros and the cons. Which do you think would come out on top?

Similarities between kava and alcohol

There are some similarities between the two substances that often lead to the question of whether kava can serve as a good replacement for alcohol.

Firstly they are both social drinks. Whereas many westerners indulge in alcoholic drinks at social gatherings, South Pacific islanders will generally gather around the kava bowl, and share thoughts, have discussions, and make decisions.

Both kava and alcohol are often taken by people who want to relax and unwind – such as after a hard day’s work, or at the weekend; both can lead to improved mood, initial feelings of euphoria, easing of tension, encouragement to “open up”, lose one’s inhibitions or shyness, and be more social.

There are also a few basic safety measures that need applying when people drink kava or alcohol. In the case of kava, the average dose found in a kava shot or supplement will not impact mental clarity or judgment; it will just make you feel relaxed. But there have been cases where driving under the influence of large doses of kava has been a safety risk. It is therefore recommended not to drive or operate heavy machinery when indulging in a lengthy kava session.

Drinking BOTH kava and alcohol and then driving is a definite no-no – as this report from New Zealand points out.

Of course, we should all know by now the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol – and the problem around the world is not merely with ‘isolated cases’; it is a major killer.

Both alcohol and kava metabolise in the liver, meaning that it should not be drunk together for fear of putting too much strain on the liver; but unless you drink a large quantity of kava, or take supplements that mix other chemicals or parts of the kava plant other than the root, the liver should be able to handle it just fine.

With alcohol too, in most healthy people the liver is extremely efficient in dealing with alcohol; but serious health problems can result from excessive consumption.

Key differences between kava and alcohol

It is said that “hate cannot exist where kava is”. While this is, of course, an idyllic view, there is a definite peaceful air around the kava bowl. That is why kava is still brought out in the South Pacific to help solve feuds between two “warring” parties. It is a peace offering and the feelings it generates are ones of relaxation, serenity, and calmness.

When drank in the traditional way, kava produces a mild calming and relaxing effect that helps bonding in social situations and family get-togethers, without affecting mental clarity.

Compare that with an average Saturday night in your local pub, bar, or club. It’s many things, but I’d bet that it’s neither serene nor calm. We have probably all seen how alcohol can lead to potentially aggressive situations as people become bolder when they have had a few drinks.

That’s not to say that the excessive kava use doesn’t lead to problems (associated relationship and family problems can result) but these are much rarer than with alcohol-associated problems.

The physical effects of taking alcohol include a reduced attention span and reaction times and, in more extreme cases, a loss of memory or comprehension, vomiting, and a loss of balance. A few reports suggest that red wine used in moderation can be beneficial for health, but in truth there is little literature extolling the health benefits of alcohol.

Also, alcohol-related diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis account for high numbers of deaths globally. According to the Lancet medical journal, alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack. The WHO’s Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 states the following:

“Globally, harmful use of alcohol causes approximately 3.3 million deaths every year (or 5.9% of all deaths), and 5.1% of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol consumption.

With kava, numbness of the lips and tongue results after drinking it and, when consumed in large amounts, pupil dilation, bloodshot eyes, and loss of appetite can result; but it is unlikely you will ever drink enough kava to produce this effect.

The kavalactones present in kava root are a confirmed short-term reliever of stress and anxiety and kava is frequently used in alternative medicine.

Another area of difference between alcohol and kava is in the after-effects. Alcohol “hangovers” caused by dehydration can be severe; headache, fever, vomiting and other stomach upsets are quite common. Prolonged usage of kava may make you feel a bit “hazy” the next day but it does not result in any of the severe symptoms of an alcohol hangover.

Insurance companies starting to endorse kava again

Yourlifesolution.com, a US-based insurance agency last year endorsed kava as a safe alternative to alcohol. With insurance companies tending to steer clear of kava, following the European ban a while back, this is another welcome step to bring the kava industry back to its rightful place.

It’s best to judge for yourself whether kava is a good substitute for alcohol; try it and see if you like the flavours and the effects –it can be an acquired taste, but do you remember your first taste of alcohol?


By Zane Yoshida

Kava Supplements for a Boost in Sports Performance

You may take kava supplements for a variety of reasons: to relax, to reduce stress, to socialize, or just because you like the taste. But did you know that kava can also help with muscle recovery? So it is a great option for sports and exercise enthusiasts out there…

Challenging the traditional view of kava

Whether kava and sports/exercise mix has been a subject that has been kicked around (excuse the pun) quite a few forums ever since kava started becoming more popular in the west.

The standard image people have of kava is of lying on a beach or in a kava bar sipping from a coconut shell. But that’s rapidly changing with the advent of kava shots, capsules, and powder. Kava is increasingly being taken as a supplement rather than just a social beverage.

Taking kava for sports might seem surprising for many people. But a previous Taki Mai blog post entitled Pre-Match Kava Rituals for Top Sportsmen reported how the Kiwi rugby team drinks kava at training and before a match, with one of the players saying:

“It helps with bumps and bruises, hydration and relaxation, especially after a long trip.”

It turns out that it may help with even more than that and can actually help muscles recover and repair…

Kava supplements and muscle recovery

Kava root is listed amongst the LiveStrong ‘muscle recovery herbs’ along with burdock root and other herbal mixtures.

Muscle recovery is the process by which muscles regain strength and it’s important for anyone who exercises regularly, as well as for more elite athletes. Minor muscle injuries such as strains are common, leading to inflammation and pain.

The website goes on to say:

“According to Xterra Training, kava root supplements are commonly used to alleviate tight muscles after a hard workout. Kava root helps to block harmful acids from forming; this increases the speed of muscle recovery. Kava root has also been used to prevent muscle cramps that are caused by a buildup of lactic acid.”

A number of bodybuilding sites are also starting to notice the benefits of taking kava supplements in the “cool down” post-exercise period. The relaxation benefits of kava help to repair tired muscles that need rest to be able to grow and stay healthy. They also help bodybuilders and other sportspeople deal with muscle tension and post-exercise soreness.

Bodybuilding.com says that the root “acts as a natural tranquillizer, steadying nerves and inducing a feeling of well-being”. More specifically:

“For bodybuilders … Kava might help to negate the symptoms of overtraining and enhance muscle growth via muscle relaxation.”

The same site lists the properties of kava as follows:

  • Alterative: tending to cure or restore to health
  • Analgesic: capable of relieving pain
  • Anesthetic: causes temporary loss of bodily sensations
  • Antifungal: capable of destroying fungi
  • Antiseptic: free of or destructive to disease-causing organisms
  • Antispasmodic: a drug used to relieve or prevent spasms
  • Aphrodisiac: a drug or other agent that stimulates sexual desire
  • Diuretic: any substance that tends to increase the flow of urine
  • Sedative: tending to soothe or tranquilize

Quite a list!

A few words of caution

Be careful with the quality of the kava you choose, the quantity you take, and when you take it, and you will benefit from its effects.

LiveStrong notes that “MedlinePlus.com…recommends that you do not take kava”, presumably based on the reports of liver damage that led to the kava ban in Germany, which was overturned last year. It is thought that these reports refer to an impure form of kava which included parts of the plant other than the pure root, which is what is used in the best kava supplements.

Our recently-announced partnership with Douglas Pharmaceuticals ensures that your Taki Mai kava supplements all use medicinal-grade kava.

Some scaremongers may also refer to an incident a few years back when a New York man collapsed while biking to work, after drinking kava tea.  However, it was found that he was suffering from rabdomyolosis, a kidney condition.

Kava can produce a similar diuretic reaction to coffee or tea, which may cause dehydration and exacerbate kidney problems, so avoid it of you have liver or kidney problems and note that it’s usually better taken after exercise rather than before.

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Kava Culture: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Kava
Sweet Dreams With Kava?
A Herbalist’s View of Kava
Is Kava a Safe Alternative to Alcohol?
Kava Supplements for a Boost in Sports Performance