Piper methysticum – Kava (plant)
Piper methysticum is a member of the Piperaceae (pepper) family. It is believed to be an ancient cultigen, most likely originating in Vanuatu or Papua New Guinea. It is believed to descend from Piper wichmannii, the only other Piper species identified so far which contains the active compounds found in P. methysticum, kavalactones (up to 3.5% dried weight in quality kava root).
The main compounds in Kava roots are kawain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, dihydrokawain, yangonin and desmethoxy-yangonin. Different cultivars contain different ratios of these compounds and this accounts for the different effects exhibited between cultivars.
Traditionally used in Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa. A number of cultivars exist on different islands and are classified by their stem colour (green or black/purple), plant stature, leaf colour, leaf hairiness, relative internode length and thickness, effects and taste. The cultivar offered by Herbalistics is Hawaiian black stem.
Piper methysticum plants are normally harvested after 4-7 years for the rhizome which can weigh 10kg or more. Traditionally the fresh or dried root is ground or masticated, mixed with water, filtered and drunk on its own. A popular treatment for anxiety and stress, kava is regarded as the herbal alternative to benzodiazepines (Valium, Serapax, Xanax, etc) as it binds to the same sites in the brain and has a similar mode of action. There’s a number of herbal kava pills you can buy in the pharmacy these days.
Kava powder is currently undergoing greater scrutiny and restrictions within Australia. Importation of dried Kava is customs restricted, hence making the product more scarce and more expensive in Australia. Importation of 2kg per incoming passenger on planes is still allowed and must be declared. Plants are legal to own and grow.
Care and Cultivation of Piper methysticum
Kava plants like a rich, deep and moist soil in part shade. Though to be honest I doubt you will be planting this in the garden unless you lived from Cairns north. Drainage should be sharp, as in it should not stay wet for too long. Some growers use a mix of gravel and bark, like orchid mix, that discourages root rot over colder months. We are experimenting with a pumice mix that works well. Kava plants are heavy feeders so would require a good fertiliser and regular watering in the growing season. Frost and drought sensitive. Bring inside or in a hothouse over the colder months. Likes a lot of root space. Fertilise well over the growing season. Main pests appear to be scale, mealy bugs and aphids. Susceptible to a number of viral diseases such as CMV (cucumber mosaic virus).
1 Piper methysticum plant (Hawaiian Black Stem cultivar)
(If you have the green stem kava that is rumoured to be in Australia (NOT Piper auritum) we would love to buy or trade for one or two, please get in touch)
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