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Kava kava: the Herb of Mystery and Pleasure

The world is a two-facet coin: there are many things familiar to us, as we think; however, if we look deeper into the matter, it becomes obvious that we know next to nothing.

Kava kava is a traditional herb for preparing beverage, known and used by the inhabitants of the Pacific islands since ancient times. People in other parts of the world got acquainted with this herb long time ago as well, still, we know very little about the power and effect of this mysterious plant.

Kava kava is from the pepper family, having a botanical name Piper methysticum. A shrub, which usually grows 6 feet high (sometimes twice higher), has large cordate leaves, short spikes of flowers, and a spotted stem.

The plant has been cultivated in many parts of the Pacific islands for centuries; therefore, it is now quite a problem to identify its home. Botanists suggest that Kava is indigenous to a group of islands in eastern Melanesia, and it was domesticated about 3000 years ago. Nowadays it is widely used by natives of the South Pacific islands (Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Vanuatu, Tonga, New Guinea, Polynesia, Micronesia, and others).

The aborigines of the above mentioned islands use and always used Kava kava for different reasons. First of all, they confirm that the beverage made from either fresh, dried, or chewed Kava roots is a healthy and natural way of relaxing, which helps suppress nervousness and relieve muscle tension, having a significant sedative effect.

The juice from the plant was also used as a tranquilizer, which helped people gain access to the spirits world and communicate with gods and ancestors during the religious ceremonies. The traditional celebrations of marriages, births, and deaths, the rites of curing from diseases and removing curses were always held with Kava juice drinking.

Since ancient times the beverage, made from this plant, was associated with a sexual intercourse. Drinking Kava kava tea was a prerogative of males. In spite of the myths that Kava kava plant was discovered by women, consuming its juice by them was perceived as a symbol of lesbianism.

However, the most significant role of the plant is observed in the traditional medicine. The islanders used and still use Kava kava for treating gout, rheumatism, bronchial congestion, tuberculosis, leprosy, urinary tract and vaginal infections (cystitis, prostatis, gonorrhea, venereal diseases and menstrual problems).Women even tried to provoke abortions, putting Kava kava leaves into the vagina.

This folk remedy was mentioned in the scientific works for the first time in 1886. These days it is gaining popularity all over the world mainly due to its sedative and relaxing effect. Food and Drug Administration of the USA classify Kava kava as a nutritional supplement, which can be used for reducing anxiety. Indeed, those, who consume the beverage or Kava kava extract in capsules report of the state of relaxation, lessening of muscle tenseness, peacefulness, mild euphoria and the feeling of being more sociable and capable to communicate.

Recent clinical trials also showed that Kava kava is effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

The beverage from the plant is usually made of the dried ground Kava roots, but the drink tastes bitter, therefore, many people prefer to take it in capsules.

The active compounds found in the roots of Kava kava are called kavalactones. There are six of them: kawain, methysticin, demethoxy-yangonin, dihidrokawain, dihidromethysticin, and yongonin. These chemicals are responsible for the relaxing effect. Actually, they produce soporific and mildly narcotic influence, nevertheless, unlike opioids, they do not cause addiction.

Scientists recommend taking Kava not more than 3-4 days a week, making one-week pauses every month. They suspect that long-term usage or drinking great amounts of Kava can cause either liver damage, especially in those predisposed to this condition, or kawaism (red, dry, flaking skin, red eyes, puffy face, muscle weakness, and blood abnormalities).

Multiple clinical trials are being held these days, still, we do not have much information on side effects and possible influence of Kava on our bodies.

The world is old, but we are young and still have so much to learn about the nature around us.

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