What is Kava?

Kava, also often called kava kava, is a member of the nightshade family of plants and native to the South Pacific islands. Pacific Islanders have used it for hundreds of years as a ceremonial drink to promote a state of relaxation.

This special herb has received widespread attention for its relaxing and stress-reducing properties.

What Is Kava?

Kava is a tropical evergreen shrub. Its scientific name is Piper methysticum. Indigenous cultures traditionally use the kava drink during rituals and social gatherings. To make it, people first grind its roots into a paste.

Traditionally the grinding was performed by chewing the roots and spitting them out, but now it’s typically done by hand.

The kava paste is mixed with water, strained and consumed.

Its active ingredients are called kavalactones, which account for 3–20% of the dry weight of the root of the plant (3).

Studies suggest kavalactones may have the following effects on the body:

  • Reduce anxiety

  • Protect neurons from damage

  • Reduce pain sensations

  • Reduce the risk of cancer, though the evidence is limited to mice

  • Most of the research to date has focused on kava’s potential to reduce anxiety.

The kavalactones appear to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that nerves release to communicate with each other.One of these neurotransmitters is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which decreases the activity of nerves.