Kava (Piper methysticum) and Types History


Kava: Piper Methysticum, our bread and butter. A cultivated variety of the Piper Wichmannii (the wild form of Kava) Plant grown in the southern pacific region. Best evidence has shown that the plant's current strain was initially cultivated in Vanuatu, and spread among Polynesia. Piper Wichmannii was genetically refined by thousands of years of careful attribute isolation through propagation by farmers only selecting the most desirable plants for their physiological effects and taste. This careful selection is what gives us traditional kava in the form of Piper Methysticum. Ideally only the roots of this plant should be consumed, but centuries past have shown the infusion of kava and water to use rootstock and the corm (or the very bulbous "trunk" which comes directly out of the ground) as well.

Varieties of Kava

Exportable Kava Types from Vanuatu are generally restricted to ""Noble"" varieties. As outlined in the Kava Act of 2002 you may find those types listed in the link below.

In regards to kava grown outside of Vanuatu, please refer to the Codex Alimentarius Commission E (Discussion Paper On The Development of a Standard for Kava Products below.)

It is easier to define kavas in groups such as Noble, and Non-Noble varieties. Noble varieties are kavas which are high in Kavain, and low in the double bonded kavalactones such as DHM or DHK. Non-noble varieties are kavas which are more saturated in heavier, double bonded kavalactones which tend to produce effects which can last several days. These kavas are referred to as ""Tudei"", or Two Day as it is often known in Vanuatu, or Isa which is more characteristic of non-noble trains originating from the Hawaiian islands. Lastly the non cultivated, wild type of kava known as Piper Wichmannii is occasionally consumed, but not allowed for export.

Kava Act of 2002
Codex Alimentarius Commission E (on kava safety)

Kava varieties are often described in terms of their chemotypes, which give you an idea of how many kavalactones they contain. For more details, see the Chemotypes page.

Cultivar Pronunciation

"(Credit: Chris from Gourmet Hawaiian Kava & Alia)
Hawaiian Cultivars
  • Mo'i= mo ee
  • Mahakea= Ma ha kay uh
  • Opihikao= O pee he cow
  • Papa ele ele= Papa L lay L ley and the Papa Ele Ele Puu puu, the Puu part = poo oo poo oo
  • Kumakua= koo muh koo uh
  • Mapulehu= Ma poo ley hoo
  • Nene= nay nay
  • Papa Kea= Papa Kay uh
  • Hanakapi'ai is Ha-nah- kah- pee- I
  • Honokane Iki is Ho-no-kan-eh- Eki
  • Hiwa is Hee -vah
  • Panaewa is Pa-nah- eva

Non-Hawaiian Cultivars
  • Isa= ee sah
  • Iwi= ee vee
  • Akau Huli from Tonga= A cow who lee
  • Ava La'au from Samoa= ah vah la ow, like ouch but with out the ch
  • Boroguru= Bo ro guru, kind of just like it sounds, I think the ones from Vanuatu are easy to pronounce.

Information to remember
"(Credit: Shakas)

A good thing to remember is that polynesian languages use the a vowel pronunciation that never changes. Pronounce vowels like you would in spanish.

A = Ah. Like the O in Opposite
E = Eh. Like E in Enter
I = EE. Like the ee's in sheep
O = Oh. Like the O in Open
U = OO. Like oo's in shoot.

  • if there's an 'okina (that little apostrophe thing) between two vowels, you stop quickly...like when you say ""uh-oh""!
  • if you see a kahakÅ (the line over the vowel), you just extend how long you say it.
  • (for example the word SÄmoa pronounced by a native speaker sounds more like ""Saaah-moah"")
  • outside of Hawai'i, other islands use the letter ""g"" to make a sound like the ""ng"" in the word 'song""
  • vowels that aren't separted by an 'okina blend together, like, ""ai"" sounds a lot like ""eye"". ah+ee = eye
  • multiple vowels can blend with a sort of ghost ""y"" sound, like, ""Aiea"" sounds similar to eye~yay~yah

Kavalactones & Their Effects

1. Desmethoxyyangonin - "mystery kavalactone". Generally the scarcest of the 6 kavalactones in most kava root and not much is known about its effects or pharmacology.

2. Dihydrokavain (DHK) - "heavy" kavalactone. Effects include sedation, muscle relaxation; moderately long-lasting.

3. Yangonin - "heady" and "edgy". Stimulation, energy and euphoria; can cause anxiety in some people. Known to be a ligand at the CB1 cannabinoid receptor, but whether this plays a role in subjective effects is unknown. Also shown to have the most potent MAOI activity of the 6 kavalactones. Also plays a roll as an anti-oxidant.

4. Kavain - the main heady kavalactone. Kicks in quickly and for a short duration, effects are mental relaxation, euphoria, feelings of well-being. Shown to enhance ligand binding in GABA receptors but at an atypical site (not the GABA nor benzodiazepine binding site). Known to block voltage-gated sodium and calcium channels.

5. Dihydromethysticin (DHM) - very sedating and long-lasting, can cause nausea. The likely culprit behind the next-day sluggishness after a large kava session. DHM is generally pretty low in noble kavas since it's generally the most undesirable kavalactone and has been selected against over the hundreds (or thousands) of years of kava domestication. Along with methysticin, this KL has been seen to induce CYP1A1 enzymes.

6. Methysticin - another "mystery kavalactone" at least for me. I don't really know what it contributes to the effects. Known to act a sodium channel blocker/antagonist (along with kavain). Known as a potent CYP1A1 inducer at the gene expression level, protein expression level, and enzymatic activity. Shows anti-oxidant activity.

(Kavaforums Member Credit: Mo'iety)