Kava Root – Understanding the South Pacific’s Root of Happiness

Kava tea made from the roots of the plant has multiple well-researched beneficial effects. The most popular effects are how it makes you feel happy or euphoric, more mentally alert as well as relaxed. Not surprisingly, kava root is often called the South Pacific’s root of happiness. What most people don’t realize is that there are many varieties and parts to the kava plant and its root. These affect the quality and strength of a kava drink and the effects you will feel. In this article, we talk about the composition and different parts of the kava plant that can go into a kava product and the effects. For those new to kava looking for more general information on what kava, is start here.

Kava Root Composition

Kava Root Pieces Being Dried
Lawena or diced stump pieces of the kava plant being dried

The Stump: A Kava plant has a thick, fleshy stump at the bottom or base of the stem, where the root begins. In Fiji this is called Lawena. This part of the plant often has a lower concentration of kavalactones, the active ingredient in kava that provides its relaxing effects. Kava products made from Lawena or this part of the plant are not as potent kava products. Their advantage though is they often taste much smoother with less of the peppery earthy taste that kava lateral root is known for. This makes Lawena-based kava good for anyone looking to try kava for the first time who is looking for a milder tasting, less potent brew.

The Lateral Roots: The kavalactone content is highest in the lateral roots of the kava plant. It often can be 2 times stronger than in the stump portion, but with the strength there also comes a much stronger or more peppery taste. The Fijian word for the lateral roots of the kava plant is Waka. Below you can see video of a freshly harvested kava plant preparing to have the stump and lateral root portions separated.

Coarse Fibers: the roots of the kava also consist of coarse fibers. With the traditional method of preparation, the basal stump and/or lateral roots of a kava plant are both pounded or ground into a powder, placed in a muslin bag and kneaded in hot water to make a kava tea. When the traditional method is used to make a kava drink, it is the insoluble, coarse fibers of the root that are left over in the muslin bag after the tea is prepared. In Vanuatu these leftover coarse fibers of the kava plant are called makas.

Unfortunately, some companies include these coarse fibrous parts in the making of their instant or micronized kava products. Micronized kava is root that has been processed to make a very fine  powder that can be mixed directly into a beverage to make an instant kava drink, avoiding the more time-consuming, traditional preparation method.

Unfortunately, the coarse fibers of the root are low in kavalactone content, so micronized kavas made with them are weaker and less effective. Regardless, some kava companies who don’t want to spend time or pay money to have the coarse fibrous parts of the root separated from the main lateral roots will take shortcuts and grind everything together. For a higher quality, more potent micronized or instant kava, seek out an online vendor who filters out the makas in processing which is what we do at Kalm with Kava.

Shop Micronized Instant Kava

Pouni Ono Tonga KavaDrinking kava root is an easy and excellent route to experiencing a dose happiness – and let’s face it, we can all do with that every now and then. That said, knowing the specific kava root composition of what you are drinking could make all the difference to the level of happy you experience!

The Best Kava for a Dose of Happiness 

If you are looking for a kava that is more likely to make you feel happy and lift your spirits, we’d recommend our Tongan Pouni Ono. It is a heady, daytime kava that our customers say makes them feel energetic and happy, as well as calmer.

Buy Pouni Ono

2 Responses

  1. Rachael Hendry
    | Reply


    Thank you so much for all of the information on your site. It is very helpful! Can you please tell me what Piper methysticum is, and is it a safe form of the plant?

    Thank you!

    • Mike Munsell
      | Reply

      Hi Rachael,
      “Piper Methysticum” is the scientific name for Kava. It really just refers to the general plant itself. There are actually over 200 different varieties of the plant and this would be one of the most important considerations when determining what you want to drink and the effects it will give. Additionally it is important to know you are purchasing only the underground portion of the plant (Basal stump and lateral roots) as these are only the recommended parts to drink. The aerial portions (leaves and stems) contain undrinkable constituents. This is why when purchasing kava, it is recommended to purchase from a supplier who knows the variety, does testing to ensure only underground portions of the plant are used, and microbial analysis to ensure compliance and cleanliness.

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