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Medicinal, culinary and unusual botanicals from Australia and around the world

Piper methysticum – Kava (plant)

5.0 (2 reviews)


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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 has finally had some relaxation on the laws surrounding it and you can now purchase it again in many parts of Australia. 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)


2 reviews for Piper methysticum – Kava (plant)

  1. Ben W

    I was keen for this plant. Potted it on arrival and is looking good.
    Packaging, service and plant, all top notch!

  2. David C.

    Plant arrived quickly and was professionally packaged, vigorous and healthy. Very happy with my purchase and kudos to the Herbalistic team!

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