Humans colonized the area of New Guinea and Australia about 40,000
years ago. They gradually spread out into the islands of Western
Melanesia, and later to islands further east. It has been suggested
by many that the cultivation of
began in earnest in Vanuatu about 3,000 years ago. From there it
was spread eastward by seafaring islanders, into Fiji and Polynesia,
and west to New Guinea and Micronesia. The kava plant is spread not
by seed, but by the cutting of "cultivars" which are transported and
replanted by humans. The plant was then, and still is, made into a
thick brew to serve as a folk medicine, the consumption of which is
usually accompanied by some type of religious ceremony. Kava was
used as currency in trade, offered up at weddings, and consumed
daily as an integral part of island society. The earliest records
of kava in the west come from the logs of Captain Cook's second
voyage to the South Pacific in the late 18th century. Kava was
prepared by pounding or chewing the root.
Kava has four main therapeutic properties:
First, it is one of the most powerful of all the herbal
antispasmodics especially useful for relieving nervous tension
throughout the mind and body.
Second, it is an anti-anxiety herb that will quickly almost
instantly dissipate effects of the many fears and apprehensions that
are so much a part of the hectic lifestyle of nineties.
Third, it is an effective diuretic with potent anti-spasmodic
and anti-pathogenic properties making it useful for a variety of
genitourinary dysfunctions ranging from cystitis, prostatitis,
venereal disease (such as gonorrhea), vaginal leucorrhea (including
yeast infections), nocturnal urination and general fluid retention.
Fourth, Kava is a carminative that improves appetite and
digestion. The combination of these properties makes Kava useful for
the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions, which is one of
its traditional medicinal uses among South Sea Islanders.
Topically, kava can be applied as a fomentation or ointment for mild
general anesthesia for the local relief of sore muscles. It can also
be chewed and kept in the mouth for the temporary relief of
word to the wise. When you are using an herb, use it in the
traditional way it has always been used. The traditional use of
Kava has always been the use of the root not the leaf or bark. See
the article below for what can happen when companies try to increase
profits without following the traditional use of Kava.
At the start of 2002, prospects were bright for Hawaii's Kava
producers. During the previous decade, the consumer base for Kava
had expanded beyond drinkers of the traditional water-based Kava
beverage to include the much larger nutritional supplement market.
Kava capsules were prescribed in Europe to treat anxiety and
insomnia. Statewide farm revenues for Kava had more than
quadrupled in one year, from $120,000 to $585,000.
By year's end, the Kava industry had collapsed. At least 68
suspected cases of Kava-linked liver toxicity had been reported,
including nine liver failures that resulted in six liver transplants
and three deaths. Countries in Europe, Asia, and North America had
banned the sale of all Kava products. In the U.S., where the
Federal Drug Administration issued warnings but did not institute a
ban, supplement sales plummeted.
In an article soon to be published in the journal Phytochemistry,
Prof. C.S. Tang (MBBE), his doctoral student Klaus Dragull, and Mr.
Wesley Yoshida (Dept. of Chemistry) characterize several chemical
compounds present in above ground portions of the Kava plant but
absent from the underground tissues used by Kava drinkers. The UH
scientists hypothesize that these compounds, called alkaloids in the
bark and leaf, may be responsible for the liver toxicity observed in
some users of Kava supplements.
Little Herb Encyclopedia, by Jack Ritchason; N.D., Woodland Publishing Incorporated, 1995
Nutritional Herbology, by Mark Pedersen, Wendell W. Whitman Company, 1998
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania 1987
The Ultimate Healing System, Course Manual, Copyright 1985, Don Lepore
Planetary Herbology, Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., Lotus Press, 1988