Everything You Need to Know About Kava

What is kava?

What is kava? What can I have instead of alcohol? Is kava safe?

Kava-kava (or simply “kava”) is a shrub native to the Pacific islands with a centuries-long history of social and medicinal use. The roots of the plant are ground into a powder and mixed into a beverage, which produces numerous positive mental and physical effects thanks to the plant’s active ingredients known as “kavalactones.” These effects include a sense of calmness, reduced muscle tension, and mild euphoria. Many people find kava an ideal alcohol substitute, especially since it does not reduce mental clarity, dehydrate the body, or lead to hangovers. However, because of the sedation that can occur, it is not recommended to drive after consuming it.

Kava is found in many grocery and health food stores in the form of teas, capsules, and extracts. Some kava experts caution against using these commercial forms for various reasons—for instance, commercial manufacturers may extract the wrong portions of the plant, such as the above-ground root portion, which contain toxic alkaloids and less of the beneficial kavalactones. Also, boiling water when preparing the commercial teas modifies and destroys kavalactones, producing a much weaker effect. For these reasons, the best introduction to kava is to purchase the ground root from an online vendor and prepare it yourself.

There are several options for preparation. The first and traditional method is to place the kava root in a straining bag, steep it in warm (not hot) water for several minutes, and then spend an additional ten minutes kneading and squeezing the bag until the water turns murky brown (the water will also have a strong, unmistakable odor). To experience the pleasant effects right away, the water is typically chugged and not sipped.