Kava Plants

The kava plant, whose scientific name is Piper methysticum, is a relative of the black pepper plant. Like the black pepper plant, the kava plant grows only in tropical locations. It's no wonder that Hawaii offers the perfect climate for growing kava plants--our lovely landscape nurtures the plants with rich soil and a mild tropical climate with plenty of sun and the proper amount of rainfall.

There are a number of strains of the kava plant, each with its own level of strength. The strength of a particular kava strain is determined by a chemical analysis of its roots. The main active components of the kava plant are called kavalactones. Kavalactones are completely non-addictive.

Kava plants have been used by Pacific Islanders for generations for a wide variety of uses. In the traditional culture of the Islands, kava is seen as a celebratory, religious, and even political aide. Today, kava plants represent a significant source of income for many South Pacific farmers: kava grows fairly rapidly in the South Pacific climate and requires no chemical fertilizers and little labor to bring to maturity. Copra (coconut) and cocoa are still bigger crops in Vanuatu and other island nations, but kava is quickly closing the gap as the world market rediscovers the benefits of this ancient brew.

Although it can be tricky, it is definitely possible to grow your own kava plants at home. If you try it, be aware that kava is never grown from seed; it is a sterile cultivar that produces no seed and is totally dependent on human propagation using the rootstock and stem cuttings.

Kava is a tropical plant and requires warm, sunny, and humid conditions to flourish. Temperatures between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for kava, meaning that if you live in southern parts of the U.S., particularly Hawaii, south Texas, or Florida, you can grow kava outside practically year round. While kava can also be grown in northern climes during the summer, you will have to bring your kava plant inside if conditions get too cold. A good guideline is to bring your kava plant inside once temperatures outside drop to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for three consecutive nights. Even in the summer, some horticulturalists recommend keeping kava in a greenhouse or under clear plastic to ensure optimum growth.

Tropical kava plants grow under the jungle canopy, which means they do best in partial sunlight; growing kava indoors near a window can provide an ideal mix of sun and shade. Pot your kava plant in a loose mixture of 50% soil and 50% Perlite that allows plenty of drainage for the roots. while kava should be watered before it starts to wilt, it's important not to satuarate the soil or leave your kava plant in standing water, as this can cause root rot. Kava grown in dry climes or indoors may also need to be misted with a spray bottle to simulate the humidity of its native jungle environment.

As a fast-growing tropical plant, kava also rapidly depletes the soil. Unless it's cultivated in a tropical environment, it will need fertilizer to grow. Luckily, kava plants are not picky about their fertilizer: you can use either an organic fertilizer or a commercial NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) blend with a 14-14-14 element ratio, as long as you change the fertilizer once a month. Make sure to use the manufacturer's lowest recommended dose on young kava plants, to avoid burning their tender roots.

The key ingredient when growing kava plants for harvest is patience: one must wait at least 3 years before harvesting the roots to avoid killing the kava plant. Most commercial kava farms wait until their plants are 4 or 5 years old, as the roots of more mature kava plants will also develop a greater concentration of kavalactones and other desirable constituents. While waiting for your kava plant to mature, you will need to repot it into larger containers to give the rootstock space in which to expand. Kava plants must also be lightly pruned as they mature to prevent the space-hungry cultivar from taking over your greenhouse or living room. Remember, kava can grow more than 15 feet high in the jungle!

So, you've diligently brought your kava plant to maturity. How do you go about harvesting the kava root? Fortunately, harvesting kava root might be the easiest part of this whole process. Simply pull the mature plant gently from the soil, wash off the rootstock, and clip off a few lateral roots (the roots the grow along the surface of the soil). Discard any roots that may have mold on them. Then cut your freshly harvested kava roots into small pieces, and dry or freeze any sections that you don't plan to use immediately.

At Kona Kava Farm, we use the strictest organic growing requirements to produce our kava root. Growing kava is our family business, and it's been a passion of ours for generations. We know you have other options for buying kava, but we truly believe ours is the best quality available anywhere. We take great pains to dry our kava in the traditional manner so that it maintains as much kavalactones as possible. In addition to pure kava root, we also sell kava in the form of a paste and a concentrate.