Famed Eighteenth Century explorer Captain Cook may have been the first Westerner to discover this mildly narcotic root. But kava has a history deeply woven throughout the many cultures of the South Pacific. In fact, it is one of the few commonalities linking the hundreds of unique cultures spread across thousands of miles of tiny, tropical islands.
Originally a beverage reserved for chiefs, in nations including Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, kava is now drunk ceremoniously to welcome visitors, mark special occasions and to create an atmosphere of sharing.
The kava ceremony
Kava in Fiji is one of the country’s most enduring cultural traditions. It is expected of visitors to native villages that they arrive with a root to present to the village chief. The root is then ground and mixed with water in a large, often wooden although occasionally carved stone, communal kava bowl.
Participating in a Fijian kava ceremony
The resulting drink is a light beige beverage that looks and smells not unlike dirty laundry water. Participants in a ceremony circle around the kava bowl, seated on the ground. The drink is passed in a half coconut shell. Each guest drinks from the shell, which is refilled and passed to then next guest until the round is complete.
When to drink kava
Many believe the drink should be enjoyed before a meal because it will enhance the taste of food. Others believe its powers of relaxation are cause to share in the ceremonial drinking of kava at the start of an evening. The strength of the drink depends on the ratio of water and the strain and age of the root. (Roots over four years old tend to have the most potency).
Is kava a tranquilizer?
Kavalactone, the active ingredient in kava, gives the drink tranquilizing powers. In fact, the first effect most drinkers feel is numbness to their lips and gums. It has been used throughout history as a muscle relaxant and anesthetic, but today most drinkers claim that they like it for its ability to elevate mood.
Some proponents say kava even acts as a truth serum, causing drinkers to communicate with open honesty. Much of this so-called “truth serum” effect likely comes from the camaraderie of sharing the kava bowl – many drinkers sit together in a circle around the bowl for hours. However, research suggests that kavalactones do trigger some neurotransmitter activity in the brain.
Kava and your health
In recent years, kava has become popular in the United States not as a drink but a dietary supplement. The root has become so popular that it is now a cash crop for both Fiji and Vanuatu.
The kava libido link and other possible uses
Physicians of complementary medicine have reported success in treating anxiety, memory loss, mood, and, yes, low libido with kava supplements. So, for the question of whether kava and sex go hand in hand, the answer is a strong maybe. However, it should be noted that in large doses, kava’s muscle-relaxing effects can deflate an evening’s plans for amorous activity.
Fiji Visitors Bureau, http://www.fijime.com
Herbal Medicine Info, http://www.herbalremediesinfo.com/kava-medicinal-uses.html
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