SCIENTIFIC NAME: Piper methysticum
FAMILY: FAMILY: Piperaceae

Kava, Piper methysticum is a robust, slightly succulent, coarsely-branching perennial shrub with fairly large round or cordate leaves, belonging to the pepper family (Piperaceae).

It is indigenous to Fiji and other Pacific Islands, except New Zealand, New Caledonia and most of the Solomon Islands. Use in Hawaii was once common but has now practically disappeared.

Like many of the plants in the pepper family, propagation is best done by cuttings, preferably with three or more nodes. It will not flourish in a dry climate, but is not particular as to soil, provided this is deep and well-drained. Humus may be supplied by means of green-manuring, or by thinly interplanting with quick-growing leguminous trees (Leucaena glauca or Albizia falcataria), which can be lopped frequently, the twigs and leaves being lightly forced into the ground as green manure.

A crop of roots is obtained 3 to 4 years after planting, each plant averaging one kilogram of dried roots.

Captain James Cook was the first who described for the western world the ceremonial use of an intoxicating drink prepared from an extract of the roots of the kava or 'yagona'. The kava is a national beverage in Fiji and other Pacific Islands, where it is being used as a token of goodwill and on ceremonial occasions. It is also used as a sedative and slightly soporific (sleep-inducing) drink. Its refreshing effects are highly spoken of by those who have tasted the drink.

The usual method of preparing the beverage was by chewing the roots and ejecting the saliva into a bowl, where it was allowed to ferment. The chewing was usually done by boys and girls with good teeth, but this method is now forbidden by law owing to its liability to spread disease. Excessive drinking produces slight paralysis and skin lesions, or can lead to dizziness ad stupefaction. It is said that kava is a safe, effective herbal treatment for anxiety and insomnia. At the recommended dose it will not cause tolerance and is not habit-forming. It was traditionally used for urinary tract infections.

Andreas Flach,
Sources: H.F. MacMilan's Tropical Planting And Gardening
Mediherb Professional Newsletter
Cardwell/Johnstone Branch Newsletter June/July, '95

DATE: September 1995

* * * * * * * * * * * * *