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, except in the NT, where the Kava Management Act was enacted in 2016 in an attempt to stop indigenous Australians from abusing kava, while still allowing persons over the age of 18 to possess 2kg of dried herb or to drink kava in licensed areas! The act essentially treats kava like alcohol and while it is an acknowledgment of Indigenous Australians health problems, it does nothing to address the problems at the source. Prohibition of drugs has failed in many (all?) instances in history and simply puts the power and profits in the hands of both the government and the licensees while still allowing abuse of the product and the criminal treatment of users.
Care and Cultivation of Piper methysticum
We’ve written a blog about growing this species, check it out here.
1 Piper methysticum plant (Hawaiian Black Stem cultivar)
NOT TO NORTHERN TERRITORY (sorry)
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