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What are the Uses and Health Benefits of Kava (Piper methysticum)?

Kava, Piper methysticum

Piper methysticum is a plant native of South Sea Islands. It has been used ceremonial for thousands of years. It has been used as a traditional drink and to make this drink, people first grind its roots to make a paste. The common name of this herb is "kava kava", which comes from the Polynesian word "awa" meaning bitter. The root of this plant is packed with specific nutrients and organic compounds such as minerals, starch, dietary fiber, water, proteins, kavalactones.

The root of Piper methysticum is dried, grounded or chewed to release the chemicals from the root and then it is quickly placed in water to catch the kavalactones in their starchy shell. After mixing them with water, it is being drunk as quickly as possible for the best results. This decoction has a wide range of health benefits.

Botanical Description

It is a tropical evergreen shrub with a woody stem and heart-shaped leaves. The shrub is about 6 feet tall, somewhat resembling bamboo in growth. This plant is a member of pepper family Piperaceae and the root is the part recommended for use in medicine. The root of this plant has a pleasant, somewhat liliac odour, slightly pungent, bitter and astringent taste. The leaves of this plant are alternate and cordate with a wavy margin. The petiole is about an inch long which is dilated at the base and furnished with linear and erect stipules. The veins are prominent and diverge from the base of the leaf blade. The flowers are small and arranged on slender spikes.

The kava lactones are the active components that contribute to the pharmacological activities of kava. It contains a plethora of active compounds such as kava lactones. The lactones in kava have been found to have significant analgesic and anesthetic effects.

Other Names

Intoxicating Pepper, Intoxicating Long Pepper, Ava Pepper, Kawa Pepper, Tonga.

Pharmacological Importance

Kaval pyrones and chalcones are the two major active compound classes of the kava extract. Kaval pyrones such as methysticin, dihydromethysticin, kavain etc. produce muscle relaxation and calming effect. Chalcones such as flavokawain A, B, and C combat cancer cell growth and have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

The tea and capsules etc. prepared from kava have generally mild effects while powders and tinctures produced from this herb are stronger.

Dosage: The recommended dosage is 6 grams per day.

Health Benefits of Kava (Piper methysticum)

The root is used as a remedy in rheumatism, gout, bronchitis, gonorrhea and is also recommended as powerful catarrhal affections in various organs and in chronic inflammation of the neck of the bladder. The action of its roots varies according to the quantity taken. When it is taken in small doses, it acts as a tonic as well as a stimulant but when taken in large doses it produces intoxication.

Aids Anxiety

The roots of kava herb are used for anxiety and are well-known for the treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia. It can be used for anxiety with no evidence of dependency. It is also used for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, migraine, psychosis, depression, withdrawal from benzodiazepine drugs etc.

By managing the hormonal imbalance in the body, it eases the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream, the root extracts, and decoctions can keep the body and mind feeling calm and content.

For Skin Disorders

This herb can be applied externally for the treatment of skin disorders such as leprosy, to promote wound healing, canker sores etc.

Gonorrhoea

Piper methysticum herb is also useful in sub-acute gonorrhea, catarrah of the bladder, nephritis with dropsy, reducing excessive urination, relieving burning sensation during micturition etc. The diuretic property of this plant is due to the presence of neutral crystallized principle, kavain or methysticin.

Pain Relief and Muscle Spasms

The root of this plant has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Due to these properties, the decoction of this root can be used for the treatment of arthritis or any injury.

Headache

The roots of kava have also shown efficacy against headaches and migraines and offer quick relief.

For Quitting Smoking

The roots of this plant are a powerful tool to quit alcohol, smoking, drugs etc. as these may help to curb the cravings. The decoction of its roots is used to calm and relaxes the nerves.

Stomach Problems

In medicinal dosage, it acts upon the stomach similar to bitter stimulants thus increasing the appetite without occasional diarrhea or constipation and also prevents the catarrhal affections of this portion of the digestive tract.

Contraindications

  • This herb is not possibly safe when taken by mouth as it can affect the liver. Liver toxicity may be due to the presence of root and stem peelings in the kava products instead of only the peeled root.
  • It is not safe to use kava before driving.
  • Pregnant and lactating mothers should avoid the consumption of this herb.
  • As this herb interferes with the nervous system so it might increase the effects of anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery. So, it should stopped at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Don’t combine kava roots with alcohol as it is already a quite potent.
  • The use of this herb has been banned or restricted in some countries.
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