Piper methysticum (Piperaceae)

Common Names:
Kava Kava
Hawaiian Names:
‘Awa Awa


Piper methysticum G. Forst.
Kingdom: Plantae-Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta-Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta-Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta-Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida-Dicotyledons
Subclass: Magnoliidae
Order: Piperales
Family: Piperaceae – Pepper family
Genus: Piper L.- Pepper
Species: Piper methysticum G. Forst.- Kava
(Wagner,W.L., D.R. Herbst, and S.H. Sohmer. 1990. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaii.)
(National Plant Database. 2004.)

This sparingly branched, erect shrub is very hardy and grows up to 12 feet high. The root is thick, soft wooded when fresh, hardening as it dries.
The succulent,thick stems have strongly swollen nodes, which vary in colour from green to black and large, smooth, bright green, heart-shaped leaves about 15-20cm long. The black ‘Awa is the rare one. Kava produces small flower spikes, but they are sterile. The plant must be propagated by dividing the roots. The flower is an inconspicuous narrow yellow-green spike. It needs to grow for 2 to 3 years minimum to achieve usable potency.
(Wagner,W.L., D.R. Herbst, and S.H. Sohmer. 1990. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaii.)
Geographic Distribution:
‘Awa is one of the plants brought in their sailing canoes by the earliest Polynesian voyagers arriving in Hawai’i.

‘Awa, a member of the pepper family, grows in the wild now and is also cultivated increasily throughout the Pacific Islands. This plant grows well at low elevations where there is constant moisture and partial sun. More than a dozen varieties of ‘Awa were known in old Hawai’i.

Medicinal Uses:**
A soothing drink with proven medicinal effects, Kava is now available to anyone seeking to calm nerves or ease stress as well as anxiety while combating fatigue the natural way.
Its special anti-depressant components fight the “blues” and bring on a happy, tranquil state. Kava is amazing for treating ailments like migraine headaches and cramps but best of all, it keeps the mind alert as the body relaxes.
To prepare the ‘Awa root, it is sometimes used fresh, sometimes sun-dried. It is washed clean, chopped into small pieces, and then pounded (or in modern times, blended in a blender) with water to create a suspension of kavalactones, which are lipid-soluble. Traditionally, the root pieces were chewed, usually by a young maiden. Now powdered and packaged root is often available.
For over 125 years Kava root has been found valuable in the treatment of gonorrhoea both acute and chronic, vaginitis, leucorrhoea, nocturnal incontinence and other ailments of the genitourinary tract. It resembles pepper in local action. A 20 % of Kava resin in oil of Sandalwood, called gonosan, is used internally for gonorrhoea. Being a local anaesthetic it relieves pain and has an aphrodisiac effect. It has also an antiseptic effect on the urine.
The capsules contain 0.3 gram and two to four can be given several times per day. As Kava is a strong diuretic it is useful for gout, rheumatism, bronchial and other ailments, resulting from heart trouble.
(Grieve, M. 1931. A Modern Herbal.)
Throughout Oceania, kava was used to calm nerves, cause relaxation and sleep, fight fatigue. It was drank to unclog urinary tracts, to lose weight, relieve asthma and rheumatism. Drinking Kava is thought to be good for headaches, cramps, and to cure syphilis and gonorrhea. Many islanders believe Kava restores strength, soothes stomach pains and cures such ailments as boils. In addition to drinking the pounded root, some people use Kava leaves. Fumigation with the leaves is believed to treat general illnesses. Macerated Kava as well as external application of the masticated Kava stump are other methods of cure, although drinking it in the traditional way is the most popular method of cure.
(Singh, Yadhu N. 1992. Kava: an Overview. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 37: 13-45.)
In Hawaii, ‘Awa Awa is used principally as a sedative to induce relaxation and sleep, especially when combined with lomi-lomi massage. It is also used as a tonic when people feel weak, as it is stimulating and refreshing, unless drunk in large quantities. Over indulgence in ‘Awa use for a period of time can adversely (but temporarily) affect the skin and eyes. The roots are chewed for sharp, blinding headaches. The Kava plant mixes with other plants is pounded and squeezed and the resulting juice heated is taken for chills and hard colds. Plant ashes mixed with ashes of other plants are rubbed on children for a disorderly stomach. Buds are chewed by children for general debility. Decoction of the whole plant and other plants is taken for lung and kindred troubles. Infusion of the plant mixed with other plants and coconut milk is taken for difficulty in passing urine.

(Akana, Akaiko. 1922. Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value.)
Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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