Herb of the Week #9 :: Kava Kava

People generally say one of two things to me when they hear I am a nutritionist “oh, my eating is terrible” or “My eating is pretty health.” Both of those may be true but we are missing one element that can make both people the one eating well and the other one not-so-much that can make all the difference: stress! Without going into too much detail, I am working on writing a post on stress and how it affects our body on a physical level (I think we all know how it affects us on an emotional level) but until then, know that it very much affects how we digest or rather how we don’t digest our food is we are in a stressed state, which means that good (or bad) food we are eating is not being turned into the good vitamins and minerals that we need from it. And that’s just to start. It does so much more in our bodies as well! So the moral of todays story is, relax! Have a small cup of some kava tea. Take a minute or 5 to breath then enjoy your food. I promise just doing that will really improve your digestion and nutrient absorption.

And now to the relaxing and calming plant the week, Kava Kava!

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Botanical Latin Name: Piper methysticum

Botanical Family: Piperaeace (pepper) family

Parts used: roots

Method: Tea, Tincture

Actions: nervine, sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, anti-fungal, anti-depressant

Energetics: warming, yang, earth/air

Taste: bitter, pungent, tongue-numbing

Dosage: Tea – infuse 1 tsp herb to 8 oz of water, steep for 10-15 minutes, drink 1-2 cups daily. Tincture use up to 2 droppers full (10-60 drops) 1-4 times daily.

Contraindications: pregnancy, lactation, hepatic diseases, liver disease, barbiturates and alcohol. Do not use more than 9 grams daily or for long term, this many affect liver enzymes. If you start to have scaly skin, stop using. Additionally, because of its desirable effects it tends to be overused. It is not meant to intoxicate, it can cause nausea, impairment and unconsciousness.

Kava kava is native to Polynesia. Originally it was used in its native countries for ceremonies, social functions, celebrations, and meetings. It’s known to ease social anxiety by calming the nerves and reducing the chances of conflict. There is a saying that “there can be no hate in the heart when one has kava.” Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar says “it is known to relax the body while awakening the mind.” It can help with tight muscles and pain, sleep and stress reduction.

Helpful uses for kava kava:

  • General and acute anxiety, depression and/or stress or panic attacks
  • Insomnia and aid in sleep
  • Muscle tension, spasms and pain
  • Asthma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cystitis
  • Tension headaches
  • Attention deficit and hyperactivity
  • Topically for athlete’s foot or ringworm
  • Urinary tract infection, vulval itching, vaginitis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Toothaches
  • Emotional swings

Rosemary Gladstar has a kava punch concoction that she mentions in her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. “Prepare a strong tea; add cinnamon, ginger and cardamom for flavor. Let the tea sit several hours or overnight, then strain. Add pineapple juice and coconut milk for flavor and serve chilled…It definitely seems to elevate the spirits and brighten the mood.”

There is even a kava bar here in Denver called Kavasutra. I haven’t been yet, but definitely want to try it out soon. Have you ever tried Kava? Thoughts?

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