Kava (Piper methysticum)
Native to the Pacific Islands, kava is a large rangy shrub with dark green leaves that are heart-shaped. There is some medicinal value to the leaves, but they are rarely used. It was first heard about in Europe in 1777 after Captain Cook's second voyage to the south Pacific. The Islanders used the herb in ceremonies, festivals and gave it to visitors as a sign of good will. It was considered an aphrodisiac and stimulant. The root has an aromatic bitter taste with a slight local anesthetic effect in the mouth.
Key Medicinal Uses
Internally Kava has been prescribed for anxiety, depression and for asthma. It works well for these ailments as it relieves fatigue and gives you energy. It helps rheumatism. It acts as a disinfectant for urinary and reproductive infections. It has been used to treat obesity, colds, and fevers and to rid the body of parasites. Since it is a natural sedative, it is often used to treat insomnia and nervousness. It is a muscle relaxant that helps relieve cramping.
Externally Kava can be applied for headaches, leprosy and skin diseases including fungal infections like ringworm.
Herbs to Combine/Supplement
A recipe for a kava herbal tea is made with 6 tablespoons of root, 3 teaspoons of cinnamon, 3 teaspoons of cardamom, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, a pinch of allspice, a gallon of water, 1 or 2 cups of milk, soymilk or rice milk and 4 tablespoons of honey. Boil all ingredients except the milk and honey in a non-aluminum pan. Simmer on low heat for an hour and then strain. Add milk and honey to desired taste.
Roots The rhizome is used medicinally as a powder, tablets and capsules, tinctures, an extract or as a tonic beverage.
If you are pregnant or nursing, do not use kava. Do not take this herb with alcohol or when you need to operate machinery or vehicles. While small doses do not appear to have any side effects, large doses may cause yellow discoloration of the skin, hair and nails, allergic skin reactions and vision disturbance. Excessive use may also cause eye irritation, tiredness, impairment of motor reflexes, equilibrium, rash, pupil dilation, sores and itching. There is some controversy on whether or not kava can cause liver disease.
The fact that the Swiss, British and French have made moves to remove the herb from their respective markets should give further cause for concern. You should certainly seek the advice of a professional before embarking on a prolonged course of this herb.
Preparation and Dosage
Follow the directions on the label of commercial preparations. Do not overdose this herb. If you are taking this herb medicinally, it is best to use it under the guidance of an experienced professional.