What Does Science Tell Us About Kava?

What Does Science Tell Us About Kava?

At Bula Kava House, we celebrate all things kava, including the wild and often mysterious origin of our favorite plant. If you read our Bula blog, you know that the origin of kava varies depending on which kava-producing country you visit. In Fiji, kava comes from a father’s sacrifice, while in Vanuatu it was bestowed as a gift from the gods. That kava remains shrouded in mystery creates even more mystique, adding a little magic to every sip.

Of course, science does know a few things about kava. From its effects on the body to how it’s grown, let’s look at what facts are known about Piper methysticum.

Kava Does Not Naturally Reproduce

Unlike blackberry bushes that pop up randomly or a neighbor’s dandelion infestation that moves into your yard, kava cannot reproduce on its own. Kava is a sterile plant that does not produce any seeds or fruit. Female plants are incredibly rare, and they will not germinate even if hand-pollinated.

To grow kava, farmers must use a breeding technique known as propagation. Cultivating kava requires farmers to cut and carefully plant sections of the plant stems, which will grow into a mature plant in three to five years. This makes growing kava a slow and time-consuming process.

Establishing a new kava crop is a multi-step process. First, a farmer will need to root their kava stem section before transferring it to soil. Then, they must wait the three to five years required to allow the kava to fully mature. Once harvested, the farmer needs to select the perfect cuttings to grow future kava plants. Finally, those stalks are then planted, and the process starts over. Add it all up, and you find that one batch of plants will only produce 2 or 3 drinkable kava harvests a decade!

Kavalactones are What Pack Kava’s Punch

Just as THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that provides potency when smoking pot, kavalactones cause the relaxing effects associated with drinking kava.

While scientific research continues to delve into kava and the impact of kavalactones on the body, we do know a few things for sure. Out of the 18 identified kavalactones, just six cause 90 percent of the relaxation effects experienced by drinking kava.

Researchers have identified that the active ingredients in kava interact with the brain’s limbic system, which regulates feelings of anxiety and stress.

There are More Varieties of Kava Than You Might Think

Perusing the Bula kava menu, you might think that only a handful of different kava varieties exist. In actuality, over 100 kava varieties have been identified, and more may exist somewhere out there in the jungles of the South Pacific.

So why are we holding out? Well, not all types of kava are drinkable.

Most kavas you can buy for consumption are known as noble kava. This type of kava provides that heady punch that makes drinking kava so enjoyable. Some wilder types of kava either pack too much of a punch, with undesirable effects, or they may not be safe to drink.

Vanuatu is Considered the Birthplace of Kava

Vanuatu carries the reputation for growing the world’s finest kava. That distinction could come from the fact that scientists believe that Piper methysticum first originated in Vanuatu before spreading to other South Pacific nations.

Since kava is an infertile plant, its seeds were not carried from island to island on the ocean breeze or due to migrating birds. If kava did originate in Vanuatu, as many researchers believe, it spread by hand as people migrated from one island to the next.

Recently, farmers in the Solomon Islands have started to grow and sell kava brought to the island from Vanuatu by missionaries, putting a modern spin on this age-old practice.

Drinking Kava Will Lead You to Having a Good Time

While no scientific evidence supports this claim, we’ve seen too many smiling faces at our Portland kava bar not to believe this is a true statement. Of course, the scientific method requires more testing, so you might as well come down to do a little “research” yourself about the cause and effect relationship between kava and happiness.

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