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Kava Varieties and Origins

June 8, 2018

Kava Varieties: A Kava Plant

Today, there are over 100 kava varieties. These kava varieties originate from many different islands and countries across the Pacific. Kava is a very unique plant. Its growth depends on the specific climate of each island. Kava is cherished by the island inhabitants wherever it is grown. The story of how there came to be so many kava varieties is inevitably linked to the ancient history of these islands and the very nature of the kava plant itself.

No one knows for sure the origins of the kava plant. Dr. Vincent Lebot researched kava origins extensively and found the first descriptions of the plant from 1786, but it was most definitely consumed far before this time. Today, the general consensus is that kava originated in Vanuatu. Some even say, more specifically, from Northern Vanuatu. There is even the suggestion that kava’s origins are on the island of Maewo in Vanuatu.

While this remains scientifically unproven, the fact that Vanuatu has the greatest number of kava varieties, far and above any other island, as well as some of the strongest kava varieties, is certainly evidence in support of this theory.

Polynesian Out-rigger canoe on beach

The kava plant was then transported to other Polynesian islands through immigration. Over time, Polynesian and Melanesian islanders took to their canoes to explore the oceans taking kava with them. Kava, along with many other plants is referred to as a Canoe Plant, also known as Polynesian Introductions. These are plants taken from ancient Polynesia and transplanted to other Pacific Islands. The term is particularly used to refer to plants brought to Hawaii 1,700 years ago by Polynesian explorers.

Not surprisingly, these explorers took with them Noble kava varieties. Noble kava was known for its pleasant effects, for promoting a sense of peace and happiness and helping to stimulate open and friendly conversation. Certain high potency cultivars have even been termed “War Kava” due to the fact that they were drunk by feuding tribes looking to avoid a war. Tribes would sit down, drink the War Kava together, discuss their issues and very often come to an amicable agreement and the conclusion that fighting was unnecessary.

It is easy to understand why Noble kava then provided the perfect beverage for these ancient adventurers to take with them and why they chose to leave behind the non-noble varieties, namely Tudei kavas, known for their more pronounced negative effects. Still today, non-noble kava cultivars are, for the most part, limited to the islands of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Kava Propagation

Kava nodes for planting

Kava plants are sterile. Female flowers are especially rare and do not produce fruit even when hand-pollinated. The inability of kava plants to produce seeds means that all new kava plants must always be propagated or grown from cuttings of the stem or root bundle of the plant.

Kava’s unique propagation process means that as each island was settled, kava was propagated anew. As was transported across the Pacific islands, distinct cultivation processes along with the different soils and climates of each island eventually resulted in the 100 plus varieties of kava we have today. Each cultivar has not only different requirements for successful cultivation, but also displays distinct characteristics in terms of its appearance, chemical makeup, and psychoactive properties.


Noble Kava Varieties by Island

Vanuatu Kava Varieties

Vanuatu is a South Pacific archipelago made up of 83 small islands, 65 of which are inhabited. Vanuatu is the assumed ancestral home of kava and has over 80 varieties of kava with many being unique to individual islands. The Kalm with Kava shop includes 3 Vanuatu kava varieties including Borogu, Borongoru®, and Melomelo. Below is a list of the more popular known Vanuatu Noble kava varieties:

Vanuatu Flag

Ahouia | Amon | Asiyai | Bir Kar | Bir Sul |Biyaj
Borogoru (also known as Borongoru®) 
Borogu (Also known as Gorgor)
Ge Gusug | Ge Vemea | Ge Wiswisket | Kelai
Leay |Melmel | Melomelo | Miela | Naga Mfwok 
Olitao | Palarasul | Palasa | Palimet| Pia | Poivota
Pualiu | Puariki | Sese | Silese | Urukara


Fiji Kava Varieties

Kava is the official national drink of Fiji where it is called both Yaqona and Malogu. Yaqona, which means bitter, refers to the bitter, earthy taste of kava and Malogu, which means subdue, references the calming effects of a drink of kava. Fiji has 13 kava varieties.    Fiji Flag

        Damu | Dokobana Loa | Dokobana Vula 
        Honolulu | Loa Kasa Balavu | Loa Kasa Keka 
        Matakaro Balavu | Matakaro Leka
        Qila Balavu | Qila Leka
        Vula Kasa Balavu | Vula Kasa Leka | Yalu

What is Awa? Hawaiian Kava 

In Hawaii kava is known as awa. Hawaii has 13 traditional varieties (listed below) and all are good for drinking.

Hawaiian Flag

Hanakapi’ai | Hiwa | Honokane Iki
Kumakua | Mahakea |Mapulehu
Moi | Nene | Opihikao
Pana’ewa | Papa ‘Ele Ele
Papa ‘Ele Ele Pu’Pu | Papa Kea

Two foreign Tudei kava varieties, Isa and lwi, are imported varieties, non-native to Hawaii that are also grown on Hawaiian islands.

Tongan Kava Varieties

Tongan FlagAll varieties cultivated in Tonga are Noble kava varieties that are known more for being more suitable for daytime drinking due to their more uplifting and with less sedating effects than some Fiji and Vanuatu kava varieties.

         Kava Fulufulu (Also known as Fu’u)
         Kava Kula | Kava Tea
         Lekahina | Lekahina ‘Akau
         Lekakula | Lekakula ‘Akau

Our Pouni Ono Kava is a blend of Leka Hina, Kava Kula, and Kava Fulufulu.

Samoan Kava Varieties

Samoan Flag

In Samoa Kava is referred to as Ava and varieties include:

Ava La’au
Ava Lea
Ava Loa
Ava Tonga

Other Island Kava Varieties

Papua New Guinea has just one noble kava variety, Kau kupwe, found on Baluan island. Similarly, the single noble kava variety on the Solomon Islands is Melomelo and in the Federated States of Micronesia Kava Variety is Rahmwahnger.

Whatever kava’s origins and however it arrived at our shores, we’re grateful that it made it to America and is growing in popularity today as more and more people learn of its natural mind and body relaxation benefits.

Tell us what your favorite noble kava variety is and why in the comments below.


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