(NOTE: This article is from the old School of Natural Healing Newsletter)

August 2004

by Lindsay Wolsey, MH

Kava Kava is an indigenous plant to Polynesia, the Sandwich Islands, and the South Sea Islands. It is thought that the frequent consumption of Kava is partially why the people of the South Pacific Islands are known as the happiest and friendliest people in the world. Traditionally it is used before important religious rites. A description of the classic process was given in 1777 by George Forster, a young naturalist on Captain James Cook’s second Pacific voyage:

“[Kava] is made in the most disgustful manner that can be imagined, from the juice contained in the roots of a species of pepper-tree. This root is cut small, and the pieces chewed by several people, who spit the macerated mass into a bowl, where some water (milk) of coconuts is poured upon it. They then strain it through a quantity of fibers of coconuts, squeezing the chips, till all their juices mix with the coconut-milk; and the whole liquor is decanted into another bowl. They swallow this nauseous stuff as fast as possible; and some old topers value themselves on being able to empty a great number of bowls.”

Colonial governments and missionaries were so disgusted with the traditional preparation of Kava Kava, that they made this process illegal, and forced the natives to prepare the beverage by grinding or grating the root stock. Fortunately, today we can get Kava Kava in a more sanitary condition, through commercially available extracts and capsules.

Kava Kava induces a pleasant sense of tranquility and sociability after it is consumed. With moderate use of Kava Kava, the consumer remains in control of his moral conscious and reason. He attains a state of well-being and contentment, free of physical or psychological excitement. He never becomes angry, unpleasant, quarrelsome or noisy, as happens with alcohol. When consumption becomes excessive, the limbs become tired, the muscles no longer seem to respond, walking becomes slow and unsteady, and the consumer appears partially inebriated, and often falls asleep. The continued use of Kava Kava is large doses will result in inflammation of the body and eyes, and can cause leprous ulcers; the skin becoming parched and peeling off in scales. A few cases have been reported of people with Parkinsons’s disease being adversely affected by Kava Kava.

Kava is anti-septic, anesthetic, narcotic, and a diuretic. It has been used for both acute and chronic gonorrhea, vaginitis, leucorrhoea, nocturnal incontinence, gout, rheumatism, bronchial ailments, and other ailments resulting from heart trouble. It has been recommended for insomnia, depression and anxiety. High doses of Kava Kava are unnecessary, and should be discouraged, as a small amount will give the desired medicinal effect. Don’t consume a gallon, when a dropper-full will do.

The Food and Drug Administration has been trying to ban the use of Kava Kava. They claim that it has been linked to liver damage. As of now, there have not been any scientific published studies that have proven that liver damage occurs from using Kava. There have been 25 reports of adverse events, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Four patients have required liver transplants. However, the reports are not public knowledge, so we do not know what else might be contributing to the liver conditions.

Recent research in Hawaii indicates that pipermethysine (a toxic chemical) may be present in the leaves and stem peelings of Kava kava, but not the root. With the increased demand for kava, some companies have started using the leaves and stem peelings in addition to the root. Apparently pipermethysine can be toxic to liver cells, although research is still pending.

It makes sense to use Kava kava the same way you would any other herb, with some common sense. If you have an underlying liver condition, you probably shouldn’t take Kava. You probably shouldn’t take a lot of other things either, until you cleanse your liver.