Piper Methysticum

For those who are interested in getting more scientific about kava, its proper Latin name is Piper methysticum. For those who are familiar with Latin scientific names, you'll see that kava kava is botanically related to the black pepper plant, Piper nigrum. At Kona Kava Farm, we specialize in growing the best organic strains of Piper methysticum here on our beautiful Hawaiian family farm.

Kava belongs to the pepper family Piperaceae, which is made up of over 2000 species scattered over Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. For anyone who's experienced the slightly peppery taste of a kava brew prepared the traditional way, it will probably come as no suprise that kava is related to the black pepper plant. Piper methysticum is also special because it's one of the few pepper species used by humans, along with black pepper (Piper nigrum) and the betel nut tree (Piper betel).

Piper methysticum refers to all cultivated varieties of kava kava. It is believed that modern kava is descended from Piper wichmannii, a wild form of kava. Although P. wichmannii can still be found in the wild, it seems that indigenous islanders greatly prefer cultivated kava for brewing: wild P. wichmannii is only used as a substitute when cultivated kava is in short supply.

Most botanists now believe that kava originated somewhere in northern Vanuatu, although the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have also been put forth as possible homelands of kava. As people migrated throughout the South Pacific, they brought their favorite kava cultivars with them, until gradually this process of artificial selection created many different varieties of Piper methysticum. Varieties of kava can be distinguished by visual factors such as leaf shape and color, stem color and thickness, the presence of spots, and so on.

At one time, botanists described as many as 14 varieties of kava in Hawaii, 21 on the Marquesas Islands, and over 72 cultivars on Vanuatu! The sheer diversity of Piper methysticum species on Vanuatu also supports the theory that Vanuatu is kava's ancestral home, because it suggests that kava has had more time to diversify there.

Piper methysticum is one of those plants that's more interesting chemically than botanically. While kava shares botanical features with many other species in the pepper family, it contains chemical constituents not found in any other species. We're talking about kavalactones, resinous compounds believed to be responsible for the effects of kava. Scientists have identified at least 15 distinct kavalactones; of these, six are present in significant amounts within the kava root, including kavain, dihydrokavain, yangonin, and methysticin.

Let's talk about some of the concerns people have regarding the use of kava kava. First and foremost, people want to know whether it's addictive. This is understandable, as we've become accustomed to modern medicines that can be extremely addictive and ultimately harmful. The good news is that kava kava is not physically addictive in any way. You also do not have increase your consumption to produce the same effects over time.

Kava kava is a wonderful social aide for people who feel tense or uptight* about business meetings, parties, giving speeches, or other occasions where sharing and talking are required. We've made it easier than ever before to experience the wonderfully relaxing effects of kava by formulating drink mixes, elixirs, and kava concentrates for you. We even have a new delicious kava chai tea mix that makes kava readily accessible to those who might be put off by the bitter taste. We'd love to hear what you think!

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease.