The kava kava (Piper methysticum) is native to the Pacific coast. This plant is a close relative of black pepper, as kava kava is a member of the pepper family. It also tastes similar to black pepper in that it has a bitter, aromatic and very pungent flavour. The plant is rich in active substances, especially kavaine and methysticin.
In Polynesia, the plant also has a prominent religious role, the word itself meaning ‘unpleasant taste’ in Polynesian. The Polynesian people use this pepper, which has an interesting name and also functions as a medicinal herb, for a great many ailments. It is hoped that it will help people suffering from insomnia, but it is also used to calm the nerves. It is also used to cure stomach and intestinal upsets, urinary tract disorders and skin fungus. It is used to relieve the unpleasant symptoms of menopause, psychological mood swings, anxiety and rheumatism. It is also used to treat serious illnesses such as syphilis.
Pacific islanders like to make a tea from this plant, which has a sedative effect after about an hour of consumption. But the brew not only calms the nerves, it also puts the consumer into a euphoric state, and after a short time induces drowsiness. The tea is also popular in these areas because it relaxes the whole body and mind. It provides relaxation for themselves, but they find that it does not cause hangovers or addiction. However, kava kava is not addictive unless it is consumed in excess, which is why they recommend drinking it only once a week.
The root stem of the herb is used to make medicinal preparations, although it is banned in some countries. Perhaps because kava kava has side effects. One of these side effects is liver damage, but this is not scientifically proven or established. Nevertheless, there are conditions and diseases for which the consumption of kava kava preparations is not recommended. Pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and people with chronic liver disease should refrain from using this herb. Those taking medication prescribed by a specialist for any mental illness should also avoid kava kava.