Deep, deep in the South Pacific amidst its islands and throughout the villages nestled within those islands lie intricately dynamic social circles that operate upon unique cultural principles and activities. It is there, deeply embedded within those cultural circles and their localized folklore that the drinking of kava kava is said to have originated – and it is amongst those islands that reports such as the following were first recorded:
“The head is affected pleasantly; you feel friendly, not beer sentimental; you cannot hate with kava in you. Kava quiets the mind; the world gains no new color or rose tint; it [is] in its place and in one easily understandable whole”, as referenced in Kava: An Overview .
Sounds pretty awesome right!? Let me assure you… it truly is. Imagine a complete feeling of light heartedness, subdued anxiety and a calm openness to the universe around you – a perceptual shift toward calm, elated bliss.
The South Pacific communities preserve the religious and mythological history of kava and its many pleasant benefits. It is the people of the South Pacific that we have to thank for sharing the Piper methysticum plant and its many wonders with us and the many other grateful societies around the world.
If you’re wondering just exactly how kava feels, read on and allow me to provide you with some insight…
Think upper meets a pleasantly light and sophisticated sedation and you have kava kava. Kava produces this funky mix of mental clarity and alertness along with a full body and psychological calm – a sensation of sheer tranquility and relaxed alertness.
While it has been compared to the feelings of alcohol, there isn’t actually intoxication with kava like what alcohol can induce. It’s essentially all of the awesome sedation and social fluidity of drinking alcohol, minus the sometimes overwhelming hangover and other physically negative effects .
You can sit with your buddies and drink kava all night long – bringing forth a calm environment of laughter, oneness and connected community. Rather than being a “social lubricant” the feelings of kava kava could better be defined as “positive social magnetism”. It’s not that it sedates negative energy only to have it later surface in odd and unruly behaviors, but rather it grows and emphasizes positive vibes and a wholesome human spirituality and universal oneness that draws people together on a soul to soul basis.
A Cultural Anomaly
I’m about to briefly outline a cultural use of the kava plant leaf and it is important to note that although the aerial parts of the kava plant might be used in some cultural circles – these parts of the plant are not ever recommended for consumption. There is indication that the aerial parts of Piper methysticum can actually be poisonous !
The “betel chew” is a substance enjoyed throughout Melanesia, South East Asia, East Africa and India. The “chew” is created from the nut of an Areca catechu palm and combined with two other ingredients: quick lime and a psychoactive intensifier – usually a leaf of a plant known for its pleasant psychoactive properties. Guess what leaf is one of the two main contenders for being included in this bliss-enhancing recipe?
That’s right, leaves from the Piper methysticum plant are used throughout Melanesia and other places to wrap the betel chew and enhance its overall effect of well-being and physical stimulation; the leaves of the nutmeg tree are also used in other parts of the world for the exact same purpose .
But I would never recommend partaking in such cultural movements. As I alluded to above, the kava plant leaves could actually be poisonous and aren’t traditionally consumed by populations in the South Pacific. This particular cultural instance is actually a bit of an anomaly.
More traditionally in places throughout Oceania and elsewhere, kava is used ceremonially and is consumed as a beverage made from the root of the Piper methysticum plant. Kava’s use was (and still is) so widespread throughout Oceania that it has been said to be the one item connecting people throughout all of the islands and connecting nations. The ceremonial consumption of kava primarily includes only the men of the cultural circles – whereas the women and children were predominately employed in the making of the beverage ; however, kava drinking is on the rise and this includes a rise within the female kava-drinking population . The ceremonial purposes of kava drinking centred around the social gatherings of chiefs and nobles, although kava was consumed for numerous other purposes as well, including the validation of titles, preparation for long journeys, to greet distinguished guests, and even to cure illnesses and release curses that had been created and placed with ill intent .
As mentioned briefly above, the traditional preparation of kava was predominantly done by the children and women of the particular social group, while the men partook in its ceremonial consumption. However, in some specific clans – such as the Samoa – the making of kava beverages was done by specially selected male individuals who were not yet significantly prominent. The root of the kava plant would be chewed and then mixed with water in a bowl, strained and then served; although, in some cultures there is indication that the root was ground and grated rather than chewed .
Kava has simply evolved into this era’s natural source of happiness and I don’t think it will be going anywhere too soon – it’s picked up quite the wonderful reputation all over the globe and is primarily known for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn to nature for a calm peace of mind rather than be dependent on manufactured chemicals that rot the brain? Yup, sure would! Well, now you know all about one such natural alternative – kava kava!
You can thank me later…
1. Cassileth, Barrie, PHD. “Oncology”. United Business Media LLC, San Francisco: April 15, 2011. Vol. 25-4 p. 384-385.
2. Cawte, John. “Psychoactive Substances of the South Seas: Betel, Kava and Pituri”. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 1985 Vol. 19 p. 83-87.
3. Sauvakacolo, Siteri. “Kava on the Up”. The Fiji Times, October 2014. Online: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=283640.
4. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: an overview”. Elsevier Scientific Publishers Ireland Ltd: 1992. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Vol. 37 p. 13-45.
5. Whitton, Lau, Salisbury, Whitehouse and Christine S. Evans. “Kava Lactones and the Kava-Kava Controversy”. Pergamon: June 5, 2003. Phytochemistry (64) p. 673-679.