Kava Kava Root

What you need to know about this traditional Vanuatu drink

For those familiar with South Pacific traditions and culture, the name kava should be familiar. However, many visitors to the islands have questions regarding this traditional drink. What is it? What is it made of? Is it alcoholic? All these questions, and more, can be answered easily. To fully understand a kava tasting you will need to know a little bit about the history of this soporific drink.

History of Kava

Kava has been used for thousands of years in the islands of the South Pacific. Traditionally, it was the drink of the Chieftain, though that custom varies with the culture of the island. Kava has been used in medicinal treatments as well as for relaxation. Once, birthing mothers drank kava to help deal with the pain of childbirth, though that is no longer the case because of the effects of the drink on the newborn.

Wall painting depicting Melanesian Feast Night
Melanesian Feast House at Worawia resort includes a large wall painting, which depicts the
feast night by a local artist, including kava kava root drinking ceremony, on the right.

Some islands forbid women from drinking kava, making it an offense punishable by death. Even today, some islands maintain a taboo against women drinking kava, though without the death penalty. Preparation of the drink also varies with culture, with some diluting the drink with water, or even saliva during the distillation process.

What Is Kava

Kava is the juice of a plant similar to a pepper tree, specifically from the root of the plant. Kava is produced by grinding the root (or chewing it) into a pulp and then squeezing the juice out. Some cultures traditionally boil the roots, while others use a different method. Either way you cut it, the process produces a powerful drink.

Is it Alcoholic

Kava is nonalcoholic. Rather, it is a narcotic, the only legal one in the world, according to the islanders. Making and selling kava does not require any pharmaceutical license in the islands, the drink is used for recreation and stress relief. Kava is also not addictive, as are other narcotics.

What are Side Effects

Other than the soporific effect, kava seems to have no side effects. In fact, pharmaceutical companies are investigating the root for its potential value to patients around the world.

What does it do

Kava produces a relaxed state of mind, a sort of numb feeling that begins with the lips and tongue, spreading outward from there.

What does it Taste Like

Apparently, the taste of kava is quite vile. It is common practice to gulp a coconut shell at one go, followed by spitting out the residue and sucking on a sweet to alleviate the taste.

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