Harvesting Kava Kava

Posted by on Jun 1, 2007 in The Mind of Makaira | 24 comments

Kava - Healer and Houseplant!On our farm, we have several acres of Piper methysticum flourishing year round. This shrub thrives at about 500 to 1000 feet above sea level, and we are right within the perfect range for the optimum Kava production. Our plants dwarf us, and are about 20 feet tall, with rhizomes sprawling in every direction from each plant base for about 10 feet. Some rhizomes are below the surface, and some are above the surface, but they can be traced quite easily from the base of the plant.

The minimum time to take your first harvest from the shrubs without endangering the shrub is about 3 years. Any less, and the shrub is in danger of dying. At Kona Kava Farm, we allow our plants to mature a minimum of 5 years before we harvest the first and only root from the plant. When we do actually harvest the plant, we take mostly lateral roots, or the runners that run along the ground. This is also the strongest part of the Kava plant as well.

Once the first set of runners is harvested, it takes 3 years to get a second set of harvestable runners from the same plant, but we only take 1 harvest per plant. The strongest kava comes from first generation roots and rhizomes, so we are constantly rotating our plants and crops to ensure maximum potency. Although, it is important to note that kava plants rarely produce seeds and almost every plant is propagated through cuttings!

Also, if you look at photos of our plants in the photo section, you will see that our fields are surrounded by taller trees. This is because kava plants love the shade, and also love water. You would be amazed at how much water these little bundles of joy can produce. Since they spread out so wide, we keep the plants separated by abut 6 feet, which yields an average of about 1200 plants per acre. That’s a lot of plants!

Since we do not harvest the fruit or the flowers from the plant, we can harvest year round. We try to harvest rootstock that is a minimum of 3 inches thick, although we have harvest some roots that were 6 inches thick, and we take care to use ONLY roots and rhizomes. In fact we are so careful, that we get about 20% less dried kava per plant because we steer so clear of anything but the most strongest parts of the plant.

As we harvest the plants, they are cut on site to small pieces that weigh just a couple of ounces each. This allows for quick and even drying, although it is important to note that kava, to remain at its maximum potency, like a good cigar, needs to retain some moisture. (If you are buying kava form anywhere, make sure it’s in a sealed foil pack!) But all of our plants are dried naturally, in the sun by Mother Nature, and this is another one of those personal steps in harvesting that we feel makes such a difference in the final product. We are also convinced that this is also why our root is often “sweet”; and that’s saying a lot for this bitter root!

Something you owe yourself, especially if you’re a fan of Kava, is at least one experience with freshly harvested root; the drink is so much less bitter, so much stronger, and so much more alive! Your body will thank you, and only then will you truly know why this plant is such an integral part of our people and culture.

Aloha no,


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  1. Aloha Ellen!

    Unfortunately, we still are not able to sell live cuttings, nor do I know of any places where they are available.

    Best of luck!

  2. I saw that in 2011 you didn’t send cuttings that could be grown. Has this changed? I would like to try growing for personal use.

  3. Aloha Chad!

    We do sell sun-dried kava whole root and root chips in sealed foil packs. This does allow some moisture to remain in the root. However, this kava root is mostly dried, so you won’t be able to prepare it in exactly the same way as the fresh root. You still may want to give it a try, though. The whole dried root can definitely provide a more authentic experience!

    For shipping and customs reasons, we cannot sell kava cuttings. It may be possible to find them for sale elsewhere online, however. Best of luck, and I hope you find a way to reproduce that truly authentic Vanuatu kava experience sometime soon! 🙂

    Aloha no,

  4. I lived in Vanuatu for two years on one of the more remote islands 1998-2000 so I definitely had my share of good kava. Since returning to the us I have only been able to find dried ground kava. Two questions:
    I read that you sun dry it (partially?). And wrap it in foil. Is that able to be ordered, and how?
    I also read that you do not sell cuttings? Any way to ask you tO make an exception? I would like to have a Plant. I actually have a bunch of them back in the mountains around our village that were given to me by our chiefs, but no way to get those…

  5. Dear Clark,

    Kava cuttings are sometimes available online. We do not presently offer them due to shipping complications, but if you search around you may be able to find what you are looking for. Best of luck – they’re beautiful plants to have around!

    Aloha no,

  6. Hello … I am a biologist and would like to tell me about where I can buy a stake to plant kava. ‘And a plant that I adore and would like to have in my garden.
    I’m from Brazil.

  7. Charlie,

    You bring up some very good questions! The difference between a 1 year old plant and a 3-5 year old plant has much to do with the size of the roots and the protection of the Kava plant, as well as the overall strength of the Kava. If we went to harvest 1 year old roots, the root system isn’t fully developed or matured. That means there are fewer roots to choose from, putting the safety of the plant and continued production at risk.

    As far as comparing mature Kava roots to apples, perhaps think of it this way: An apple is fully grown in a single season. You get a flower which then matures into a fruit, and at the end, you pick the apple. With Kava Roots, this growing process can take several years to fully complete. So, taking 1 year old roots is like picking a green apple. Instead of taking a single season for Kava Root to mature, it takes a Kava plant several years. We also aren’t picking the “fruit” at the end of each season; we are allowing the fruit (the roots) to fully form over the course of several years.

    Kava is truly like a fine wine; the roots get more potent, they get more workable, easier to extract, and the flavor itself matures over time as. Think of young Asparagus shoots: They sort of taste like Asparagus, but a true Asparagus harvest takes 2-3 years of the plant growing in order to get a first harvest. It’s the same for Kava roots as well.

    Hope this helps! Mahalo, Makaira

  8. Hey, I got a question.

    If Kava is only mature around 3-5 years, what exactly is the difference between a one year old plant?

    If you think about the nature of plants and their genetic/chemical make-up, don’t you think that each plant still has the same RIDE as any of the other same plants that are a few year older? Check it out, a relatively young tree is still going to give apples like the others, a young rose bush stills gives roses like the others too…get where I’m going at?

  9. Will do.
    we have only one type so far
    A hawaiian black cultivar

    if we can track down a different one we will try
    perhaps treatment with GA would assist as is done in Taro breeding

    Piper wichmanii is believed to be the wild ancestor. It is fertile,
    and some types are used in the western pacific. they are considered Kava , but also inferior

    however its a good hobby. one day Kava may need this kind of help to survive, either that or well have to use GE to splice in antisense DNA like in the Papaya.
    seedlings would generate new forms and possibly new chemotypes.
    for myself, on the margins of kava country this is a good thing

  10. I had a Kava Kava party over the weekend. Guests drank from Coconut shells and all had a very laid back time. We supplied our guests with Tuccelli All Natural Hot Cocoa Mix. I’ve found that Cocoa is a pefect natural way of following up one’s consumption of Kava Kava.

  11. Reville –

    This is an interesting theory; we have not tried to polenate any kava plants except those from our own farm out of curiosity only. It has never occured for us to pollenate different strains, becuase we have the exact strain and potency of plant that we want, it’s got a sweet taste like no other, and we spend our time preserving the strain we have. Thanks for the input, though, and keep us posted if you find anything! – Aloha no, Makaira

  12. Interetsing you say Kava can set seed – even if it is rarely, the research i read said the flowers are fertile but have a self incompatibility.

    Unfortunately i live in the wrong climate and when i do move ill still be in australia with our terribly strict rules on kava incl importing plants

    I have a theory that if you were to x pollinate different cultivars you would have a better chance. that said they would have to be different lineages not just budsports of each other. To get this kind of diversity youd have to collect from hawaii, Fiji across the islands West to Vanuatu i’d be especially keen on Vanuata strains as they are stronger and close to the centre of origin.

    Just as an example – garlic has the same problem – no seed set, but reasearchers in Russia and the US have fixed that by going back to its origin and finding strains retaining some fertility along with techniques to trick it to form seeds. They succeeded and watched as the seed grown lines started with poor viability 🙁

  13. Jeremy –

    Presently, we do not ship live plants anywhere, partly becuase our strain of Kava has been perfected over a number of years, and, in many ways, is a family heirloom. For us, it would be like TollHouse giving out their secret recipe for cookies, so we keep our particular strain of Kava carefully guarded.

    As far as seeds; this lovely plant rarely seeds. We have heard rumors that Kava can go to seed, but the plant is normally propogated by cuttings, and has been for as long as we have known.

    We have never heard of withdrawal from Kava; maybe you should speak with a doctor and trace the root of your issues. If it’s simply that you miss having this wonderful plant in your world, we do indeed concur, and wouldn’t want to be more than a few days without at least a taste of this enticing treat. Aloha no, Makaira

  14. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Zambia and I have been going through Kava withdrawls lately. I really want to grow some Kava here and I am certain that it would thrive and do well. I don’t know how I would aquire any live viable cuttings as they will die in transport. Is it possible to buy seeds? Please get back to me as I would like to plant as soon as possible.

    Peace, love and waves


  15. Wow! – You seem to be extraordinarily well versed on all-things ‘awa. We thank you deeply for all of the useful information, and am happy to post as much information here as you wish to share; we know it is and would be interesting to a large number of our customers.

    Are you a commercial grower? Do you simply adore Kava? Do you sell retail?

    We would also like to share the kava that we are so proud to offer our customers with you in the form of a small care package. We can include some of our Kava (since you seem to be such a knowledgeable and avid fan) as well as our vegan chocolate. Simply send a request to kavashop at konakavafarm dot com, and we will send something off to you right away. Thanks again for taking the time to enlighten and inform us. Aloha no, Makaira

  16. Good on you. hahaha. Bye -bye Monsanto. Unfortunately we are seeing a few countries that do not have a tradition of kava growing jumping in on the act and doing some strange things with the plant. Papua New Guinea is selling a kava very high in total percentage kavalactones. However when I tested it, and then asked a lot of questions, as I also used to live there, commercially it is a cultivated type of wild kava, yet they are putting money in tissue culture and plantations of same. Huge mistake. It will give a headache,nausea and a hangover effect. Good kava does not do that. The % level of kavain that makes up the total percentage of all the 6 kavalactones that we commonly use as standard benchmark testing worldwide should be the highest by far for good kava. There is nothing wrong with tissue culture, if it is done from the correct mother plant. Indonesian have plants like PNG. These commercially cultivated plants are not good, in fact have been called downright dangerous to health by our scientists here. You are 100% correct in it should be only be the root material that is consumed. Peeled a little to remove obvious flaws and damage. The rhizome to root stock argument has been going on for years. Technically root stock, the underground big solid root part that centre the plant is the true correct term, as a rhizome is like a ginger rhizome, the stems shoot up in an underground lengthwise series, unlike kava where they shoot up from the root stock. I would not worry too much about that, it is the pure scientists that do, as long as we are all referring to the underground material it is an academic issue. The lateral root is the root that grows out sideways underground. They stabilise the plant. In Vanuatu on a mature plant will be close to 80% rootstock to 20% lateral root, and that is how it is consumed commercially and locally. Why muck with nature? We too do not use the stems. Again you are correct that they have a different chemistry, but more importantly, why would anyone destroy their planting material, as that is what the stems are used for here. Leaves are just compost, some local medicinal use, but never internally.

    That is why we all upset Germany and the likes. They could not synthesise the plant in the lab and make it work, they cannot patent it, they cannot buy enough.. yet.. raw plant material to grow in some dubious country at the lowest cost, and the problem there is not a health issue, it is a political and pharmaceutical protection issue. The scare factor just onflowed to other countries. Germany has NOT lifted the ban. They said they were going to, then changed their mind and just decided another round of “studies” was needed. If kava caused liver damage than 1/2 the entire population of this country would be dead. They are alive and well and happy. We consume well over the “recommended” does. The biggest problem from the regulatory side is one thing. What exactly is kava? A pill, a tincture or the fresh plant of known safe varieties? That needs to be defined to rid the negative claims and also to weed out the junk kava sellers. Hawaii has some excellent varieties, along with Vanuatu and the one and only that I know of from Pohnpei (saku) are all top grade, good in body effect. Fiji, Samoa, Tonga have some OK types, but the handling, care and attention is not up to the standard that you guys appear to do, and what Vanuatu already does. Good kava comes back to your growers and traders. A passion, cultural understanding and traditional growing techniques and respect in post harvest handling of the plant, and the World can then enjoy the real deal without concern for side effects. Well done guys.

  17. We have never been able to propagate our plants through any method but cuttings as well. We have heard, as we have stated previously, that there is evidence that the plant can be successfully pollinated, but we have not personally witnessed this. Our plants are not genetically altered in any way, and we would never dream of growing plants provided by Monsanto.

    Thank you for all the helpful information you have provided here; I think it will be an interesting and eye-opening read for anyone interested in Kava, as well as what devastating effect new farming techniques can have on our environment. Aloha no, Makaira

  18. I question what you are doing. The first question I asked to those that are wise waa is that a plant by Monsanto? The ethiobioligists said no, you may have a 100 pus year old plant, and they are interested. Hawaii has the best kava research . Her we go:-But in Kona, Una Greenaway lives in fear that biotechnology will ruin her organic coffee plantation. Pineapple industry officials have made it clear they want nothing to do with genetic engineering.

    So it goes in Hawaii, which has long served as the world’s largest outdoor biotechnology laboratory. Through the power of biotechnology, low-nicotine tobacco, disease resistant cotton and soy immune to weed killer are grown here, where the weather affords a year round growing season.

    Farmers such as Kamiya are satisfied with genetic engineering’s effects on Hawaii. Kamiya has grown papayas, Hawaii’s best selling fruit behind
    pineapple, since 1969. He lived through three crop-killing epidemics, but by the early 1990s, his farm, along with the entire Hawaiian papaya industry was on the brink of destruction. They were at the mercy of a cureless virus. Scientist Dennis Gonsalves, a native Hawaiian then at Cornell University,
    developed the idea to genetically splice a harmless piece of the virus into papaya trees – essentially vaccinating them in much the same way as people
    fight the flu.

    It worked and today the virus is a mere nuisance for the $16 million industry – even for the 50% of papayas grown conventionally and without virus
    protection in Hawaii. That’s because the virus has fewer places to live now.

    The day before, Kamiya spent five hours in Honolulu at a meeting helping to defeat a proposed measure from qualifying for the vote that would have banned genetic engineering on Oahu island and effectively put him out of business.

    But that’s precisely what organic coffee growers like Una Greenaway and others want. They’re shocked that Hawaii has become biotechnology’s chief laboratory and are concerned about their economic future. Greenaway worries that the creeping march of biotechnology in Hawaii will soon spell her financial ruin if consumers fear that famed Kona coffee was somehow tainted by biotechnology. Researchers in the state are attempting to genetically engineer coffee plants to grow decaffeinated beans, which don’t occur naturally. The researchers haven’t yet grown their experimental coffee plants outdoors, even though federal regulators gave permission in 1999. Still Greenway is worried by the prospect that the work will move outdoors, then mix with her crop and dilute her coffee’s punch. ‘Genetically engineered coffee would be an “economic disaster” Greenaway said.

    In many ways the biotechnology debate in Hawaii is a microcosm of the global debate over biotechnology. There hasn’t been a single allergic reaction or other health problem credibly connected to consuming biotech food. Still many scientists do worry about the threats biotechnology poses to the environment, mainly through cross-pollination with conventionally grown crops. That poses a particular problem for organic farmers who charge a premium to guarantee customers their groceries are free of genetic engineering.

    The industry and its supporters proudly point out that biotechnology is actually helping small farmers by reducing pesticide use. Close to 8 million
    subsistence farmers throughout the developing world are growing genetically engineered soy and corn that require less toxic killer and bug spray, making farming better for the environment and those working in the fields.

    Yet growing numbers of consumers and activists worry that the major biotechnology companies are asserting a grip on the world’s food supply that
    will ultimately kill organic and family farms.

  19. I live in Vanuatu, and we have yet to see a seed from any kava plant. Nor do we have pollentation. The only method of propergation is via cuttings, dating back over 3000 years. Have you got piper methysticum here, or a different plant of the same family?

  20. Yes, every once in a while (and no one seems to be able to control, enhance, or encourage the process), a plant will successfully pollenate  (From Kava Grower’s Guide: “Despite this diversity kava in fact has a very narrow genetic base. This is because kava rarely produces viable seed so there is virtually no possibility of cross pollination to create new cultivars. The diversity of kava has been caused by farmers selecting mutant kava plants with desirable characteristics for personal and ceremonial use. This selection system began with the domestication of kava thousands of years ago and has produced the kava cultivars that we have today.”)  But, pollenation doesn’t guarantee a seed, and even if a plant successfully pollinates, it doesn’t guarantee any viable seeds. Kava kava is an extremely hardy plant, though, and has thrived with propagation via cuttings for thousands of years. – Aloha no, Makaira

  21. You mentioned that the kava rarely produces a seed. I find that extremely fascinating. Does that mean you have the odd plant that produces a seed?

  22. The stem, as you suspected, exists ABOVE the ground, and has a very different chemical makeup than a root or rhizome that exists BELOW the ground. The sun is a powerful and magical force that can greatly alter the chemical structure of plants. For example, there are countless herbs that have poisonous flowers, but the rest of the plant can be made into a tea. It’s the same with Kava Kava; the rhizomes are no different than roots, except that they often exists laterally under the ground, connecting the various kava plants together. The rhizome is just a fancy name for a root, and we make note of the difference, just to be as clear with our customers as we can. I do hope that this helps!

  23. I was wandering what the difference between a stem and a rhizome is. From what I have read a rhizome is a sort of “underground stem.” The following statements are included in the site: “The most potent kava comes from first generation roots and rhizomes, so we are constantly rotating our plants and crops to ensure maximum potency.’ Please remember that the only time Kava Kava has been shown to be poisonous or cause liver damage is when the leaves and stems are consumed. This is why we use ROOTS ONLY in ALL of our Kava Kava products.”

  24. I have recently visited your Kava bar in Kona Hawaii and found the experience to be the most relaxing and social experience of my 2 weeks in Hawaii. I purchased your Kava powder and though it is delicious, (okay its not so delicious but reasonably effective) I find that the Kava from your Kava bar was fresher and more efficient at acheiving the state of relaxation I desired. I wish there was a way to order fresh root from you…sigh.  Keep up the good work!

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