Kava Benefits, Uses & History

Kava, also known as Kava Kava, is a herbal remedy that is native to the Pacific Islands. It is believed to have a euphoric effect that helps to relieve stress and ease feelings of anxiety.

It can come in the form of a beverage or extract and it is made from Piper methysticum and is part of the nightshade plant family. In regards to its appearance, it has woody stems and leaves that replicate the shape of a heart. 

Kava Benefits, Uses & History

Although it is primarily considered to be a herbal remedy, it also acts as a depressant drug. Despite this, it remains legal in the United States as it is used as a supplement for dietary reasons.

There are few countries, however, where Kava is banned and not permitted for personal use. 

What is the history of Kava?

There are conflicting opinions regarding the beginnings of Kava.

Whilst some believe that Kava first began to grow on the islands of Vanuatu around 3,00 years ago, some disagree and instead suggest that it first began in New Guinea or Fiji.

Soon after, its popularity spread East. Due to the different beliefs regarding the first discovery of Kava, its origins are a mystery. 

It is typically harvested because its rootstock contains pharmacologically active compounds. Many origins and myths surround the existence and origins of Kava most of which involve humans and surround the concept of death, mortality, marriage, and birth.

In Hawaii, the bubbles that appeared on the surface of this plant were inspected to determine the gender of a baby and possible causes of illnesses. According to the Samoan legend, it was first given to the high chief by a Fijian princess and sun god. 

In the 1980s Kava was introduced to communities in the North of Australia as a replacement for alcohol. In doing so, there were hopes that it would reduce the number of alcohol-triggered harms that occurred there. 

How does Kava work?

Kava contains Kava-lactones which can affect the brain and several other parts of the nervous system. As it is absorbed it works through the bloodstream and as a result relaxes muscles. 

What are the uses of Kava?

Traditionally, the roots of Kava were made into a paste which was then mixed with coconut milk and water before being consumed as a drink.

On the South Pacific Islands, it is used in religious and cultural ceremonies and is either made into a powder or drunk as a liquid as its calming effect produces a feeling of altered consciousness. 

In Fiji, Kava is used as part of the Traditional Fijian Kava Ceremony on important occasions but also to welcome guests as they enter the village.

Those who attend the ceremony are asked to dress in a respectful manner. Attendants will then sit in a circle surrounding the bowl which is positioned in front of the ceremony leader.

The kava is then pounded and the pulp is then put inside a cloth sack. Following this, it is mixed with water until it becomes a liquid which is known as Kava gold.

Guests are then offered a half or full cup of kava which ideally should be consumed in a single gulp. After drinking the kava, guests should clap three times before pronouncing the word ‘Maca’. Aside from this, Fijian families will regularly enjoy Kanva together. 

Kava is used as a medical treatment for many health-related purposes. As mentioned, it is often used to help with anxiety and stress. Moreover, it is also used to help those who struggle to sleep.

Kava is also used to treat Premenstrual Syndrome as it is thought to relieve pain that is caused by cramps. 

What are the benefits of kava?

According to research, there are several possible health-related benefits associated with the use of kava. 


One of the most common uses of kava is to help with stress and anxiety.

Due to the high content of kavalactones, it is suggested that this remedy may be just as effective as some specific medications for anxiety. It is thought that the people who use kava will benefit from the calming and relaxing effect that it has on the body. 

Since its discovery, several studies have been conducted to examine the effectiveness of kava in helping those with an anxiety disorder. The first was held in 1997.

Participants that were given the kava reported that the severity of their anxiety eased after taking it.

A study from 2013 discovered that kava, specifically kava extract, had a small but significant effect on reducing feelings of anxiety.

There have been several studies conducted since which also report similar findings. Ultimately the results gathered from all of the studies that have been carried out support the suggestion that kava can help to reduce levels of stress and anxiety.

Though the effects of kava are prominent in this instance, they aren’t likely to be felt straight away, hence why participants involved in the study were given kava to take for a couple of weeks.

As such, those who decide to take kava to help with anxiety, shouldn’t expect to notice a huge difference before at least 3 weeks have passed. 


For some people, sleep deprivation is a serious issue that can also lead to the development of a few other medical conditions such as depression and high blood pressure.

Because of the anxiolytic effects of kava, it is often used as a type of therapy for those with sleeping disorders.

There is also a certain type of kavalactone named kevain which is thought to have a sedative effect. Because kava is known for its calming properties, it can help to relax the bodies of those who would otherwise struggle to fall asleep easily. 

Although it is thought that kava can be beneficial when used by those who cannot sleep, there isn’t a huge amount of concrete evidence that firmly supports this suggestion.

In fact, it is thought that many of the effects of kava on sleep are thought to occur as a result of its ability to help those with anxiety. This is because you will sometimes find that insomnia caused by stress is often experienced by individuals with anxiety. 

For those who don’t want to take prescribed sleeping tablets, kava is a natural alternative, however, there is no guarantee that it will be effective.

Again, you should not expect to notice a drastic difference in the first few days of taking kava because it can take weeks and in some instances, it may not work at all. 

Other benefits of kava

kava leaves

There are a few other conditions that kava is thought to help with, however, there is insufficient evidence available to confirm its effectiveness. 

Some studies have shown that kava can help with depression, working in a similar way as it does to reduce anxiety.

As there have only been a few studies conducted to investigate the impact of kava on depression, there is no guarantee that it will work because there is not enough evidence to prove this. 

There are suggestions that taking kava can help to prevent cancer, but you should not in any circumstance opt to use kava as a replacement for cancer therapy.

Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best treatment. 

Studies suggest that kava can help to treat menopausal symptoms. Often women who are going through perimenopause or menopause will become irritable, experience hot flushes and sweats, and more difficulties sleeping.

Although there have been trials carried out on perimenopausal and menopausal women to investigate the effectiveness of kava, there isn’t enough evidence available to show that it can help with all of the symptoms that women are likely to encounter during this time.

Whilst it improved irritability, anxiety, and insomnia, it is unclear whether it helps with mood symptoms.  

Is kava safe?

Now you may be wondering whether or not kava is safe to use. Although there is a history of people consuming kava as a beverage, there are concerns regarding its impact on the body.

An unintentional dose of kava can be unsafe and regular use can lead to long-term health effects. In fact, research has suggested that it can cause stomach irritation, disorientation, and liver damage.

Symptoms of liver damage include nauseous, fatigue, fever, and jaundice. For these reasons, in several countries, it is banned or its use is restricted.

Despite this, it remains legal in the US because it can still have some benefits when it is used as a treatment. 

Should you experience any symptoms of liver damage or you have reservations regarding its safety, you should either avoid using it, or you should use it with caution.

It is also recommended that you consult your doctor if you are already taking medication because they will be able to advise you on its suitability for you. It should also be avoided by individuals with Parkinson’s disease because it can worsen symptoms.

Furthermore, it should also be avoided by those with blood clots, low blood pressure, or alcoholism. 

If you drive, consuming kava is not recommended because it can cause drowsiness and can also affect reflexes. 

For safety reasons, experts generally suggest that a daily dose should not exceed 250 milligrams.

You may also wish to mix it into a juice or another drink of some kind if you would prefer to disguise the taste. Limit your use ensuring that you do not take it for more than 3 months. 

What are the different forms of kava?

Kava comes in different forms. This includes liquid, powder, capsules, or tea.

The type that you choose will likely depend on what you find the easiest to digest. Kava tea comes readily available but you must make sure that kavalactone is listed as one of the main ingredients.

Some people may prefer to take a kava capsule. Again you will need to ensure that kavalactone is a listed ingredient.

If neither of these appeal to you, you may prefer to take kava in liquid form. It is worth noting that the kavalactones in a liquid formulation are more concentrated so you don’t need to take as much.

Products that contain proprietary blends are not recommended because it is unclear as to how much kava is contained within the product. In the US kava can be purchased in the majority of large retail stores, over the counter. 

Are there any side effects of taking kava?

Although kava is generally considered to be safe to use there are some side effects. Reducing the amount that you take can help to reverse the impact of these effects.

Some of the earlier symptoms include darkened urine and fatigue. More common side effects include headaches, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. If used intensely, kava can cause dermopathy and dry skin. 

Whilst some people may experience all of these side effects, others may experience a few and some people may not experience any side effects.

It is important to note that when kava is taken on a long term basis, it can have catastrophic effects on the body, hence why it should only be taken for a limited period of time. 

Final Thoughts

The origins of kava are unclear, however, since its discovery, it has been used to help with stress, anxiety, and sleep related issues.

Although it is thought to be safe to use, it can interfere with certain medications and may harm certain parts of your body such as your liver if it is not consumed in the correct dosage.

There are certain parts of a kava plant that are more harmful to your body than others so you must check what part you have before taking it.

Whilst kava is banned in several countries, use as a supplement for health and dietary purposes is still permitted in the USA. 

If you have concerns about the safety of kava, you may wish to try other types of remedies instead, however, if used with caution, most people should be able to take it safely.