Name: Kava (Piper methysticum)
Otherwise known as: Kava-Kava, Ava Pepper
Habitat: A perennial member of the Piperaceae family growing to about 3m in rich soils in Oceania. The plant has few leaves that are heart-shaped, alternate and sometimes wider than their length. It is cultivated for its rootstock.
What does it do: Kava was unknown to the western world until the 18th century, when it was described by Captain James Cook in the account of his voyages in the southern ocean in 1768. It had been rumoured among travellers that the south sea islanders possessed a magical drink that was superior to alcohol. There is no history of the plant before this date but it probably originated in Indonesia and was transferred from island to island by Polynesian travellers in canoes. Each island race has its own story regarding the origins of Kava: my favourite is from Tonga: a great chief is visiting one his subjects during a time of famine and the host, having nothing to serve, kills his daughter and cooks her for the feast. The chief recognising human flesh refuses to eat and instructs the subject to bury the remains and bring whatever plant shall arise from the grave. On receiving the mature plant, the chief prepared a drink from it, and the Kava ceremony was born.
The full rite is reserved for honoured guests and is as rich in ritual as that surrounding Japanese tea. The effect of consuming the drink is to experience a pleasant sense of tranquillity and sociability; the drinker never becomes angry, noisy or unpleasant as sometimes happens with consumption of alcohol. Kava, it is claimed, induces great clarity of mind and the senses without any accompanying loss of facility; however, large doses of kava will lead to a deep dreamless sleep.
The cultural use of the drink is to establish good relations and avoid confict; perhaps we should put it in the water supply.
Kava contains kavalactones, pipermethysticine and pyrone; these make it antimicrobial, antiseptic, stimulant, analgesic, antispasmodic, nervine and tonic. Its principal application is in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea and in treating genitor-urinary infections, orchitis (inflamed testicles), vaginitis, candida, inflamed Fallopian tubes, incontinence in the young and elderly, infections of the bladder, prostate, and kidneys, and an infallible cure for insomnia. Kava is effective against E.Coli.