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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

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

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

Kava Culture: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Kava
Kava and Tea: Closer Than Kava and Beer?
Kava Shots Fit For a Queen!