The Kava Kava Root - Side Effects and Benefits

Botanical Name of Kava Kava: Piper methysticum

Other Common Names: Kava, Kawa, ‘awa (Hawaii), ‘ava (Samoa), yaqona (Fiji), sakau (Pohnpei)

Habitat: Historically kava has been grown in Hawaii, Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Samoas, and Tonga. It is a cash crop in Vanatua and Fiji. The kava plant is a shrub that thrives in shaded, well-drained, loose soils. It grows naturally where rainfall is plentiful. The plant grows best between 20 and 35 degrees Celsius and between 70 and 100 percent humidity.

Plant Description: Kava kava is a shrub of the pepper family that grows to a height of 3 meters. This hardy perennial sports heart-shaped, bright green leaves, which are around 15 to 20 centimeters long. The plant does produce small flower spikes that are sterile. The roots in mature plants may reach as deep as 60 centimeters.

Plant Parts Used: The root and rhizome of kava kava are used in medicinal and recreational uses.

Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims of Kava Kava

* Kava has been used in social gatherings to lower inhibitions and make everyone more relaxed and amiable.
* Kava is a popular herb to treat anxiety, stress and depression. The relaxing, euphoric state brought on by this herb make it useful in treating these conditions.
* This herb is often used in religious ceremonies to obtain an enlightened state.
* Some research has shown promise for the use of kava kava in ovarian cancer and leukemia treatment.
* Traditionally, Pacific Islanders have used Kava to treat rheumatism, menstrual problems, venereal disease, tuberculosis, and leprosy.
* Kava may be used in place of aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen in pain relieve.
* This herb also acts as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory agent, thereby making it useful in treating gout, bronchial congestions, cystitis, and prostatis.
* Kava kava is often used as a herbal sleep aid as well.

Preparation and Usage

Kava kava is traditionally prepared by chewing of the root by a child or a young, virgin female and then the masticated root is spit into a bowl with a small amount of water added. It can also be ground into a powder and mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste. This is then mixed with a cold liquid to make a drink. Kava may also be combined with other herbs to combine and enhance the effects.

Potential Side Effects of Kava Kava

While kava kava, in small amounts over short periods, is believed to be relatively safe, there is some question about possible liver toxicity. Long term use may cause the skin to dry out and possibly lead to skin ulcers. Most research supports the idea that Kava use does not lead to addiction or dependency. This herb should not be taken while driving, or any other activity where mental acuity is required. High doses may lead to dizziness, muscle weakness, and visual impairment. Long term use may contribute to hypertension, reduced protein levels, blood cell abnormalities, or even liver damage. Kava should not be used with prescription anti-depressants, sedatives or mixed with alcohol. This herb should not be used by people with cirrhosis of the liver or other liver disorders. This herb should not be used by those who are pregnant, nursing or being treated for depression.

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