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For over 3,500 years, Kava elixir played a significant role in sacred ceremonies. Captain Cook, upon arriving in Wilemea Bay, Kauai, became the first white man to taste the mysterious liquor of the royal Hawaiian kings. The captain named the plant kava, which means “intoxicating pepper.”
The beverage, also known as kava kava, sakau, yaqona or yanggona, is a traditional Pacific Islalnd beverage made from the root of the pepper plant, Piper methysticum. The name Piper derived from the Latin word for pepper describes the plant species. Methysticum the Latin word for intoxicating describes it characteristics. In the Hawaiian language, the magic brew is simply called awa.
Similar to the peace-pipe ritual of the American Indian, Pacific Islanders have ceremonially used the drink to foster friendship and harmonious relationships between neighbors. Kave root is chewed or ground. A generous portion of the pulverized root added to a large ceremonial bowl of cool water completes the preparation. Coconut half shells are traditionally used to scoop up the liquid. In an island gesture of friendship, drinkers clap first, then lift the coconut shell with both hands and drink the liquid in one continuous swallow.
The pulverized root of the plant, mixed with water, produces an earthy tasting drink with mild sedative effects. Consumed from Asia to Australia, kava enhances relaxation without impairing mental clarity. Kava drinkers may experience a slight tingling or numbness of the lips, mouth and throat. Vivid dreams affect some users.
Kavalactones, the active ingredients within the root, effectively relieves social anxiety and encourages verbal expression. The plant contains 15 known psychoactive kavalactones, also known as kavapyrones. Concentration varies in different strains and produces different effects. A sizeable shrub, the herbacous perennial exhibits large, deep green, heart-shaped leaves and elegant, long white flowers. Hawaiian healers recommend using only the fibrous root of the plant. Research indicates the use of the stems or leaves may cause liver toxicity.
The effects of kava are observable with 20 minutes of ingestion and may last from 2 to 10 hours. Some strains deliver improved cognitive skills, memory recall and a sense of peace and acceptance that lasts for several days. Medical research indicates that kava improves sleep quality and allows users to fall asleep faster. Kava focuses the mind, calms the spirit and relaxes the body.
There are many different strains or awa cultivars. Traditionally reserved only for royalty, the Mo’I strain of Kava exhibits a surprisingly high volume of the kavalactone kavain.
Papa´ele´ele, the strain most often used in sacred ceremonies, provides a fast acting calmative. Rich in euphoricients, Papa´ele´ele, renowned for its association with Papa (earth-mother), Papa´ele´ele presents a strong, earthy aroma and bitter taste.
Tuday, also known as “two-day”, the most popular kava strain for recreational relaxation, produces a state of intense relaxation followed by restful, dreamless sleep. Tuday is highly potent presenting an intense pine flavor. The effects of Tuday last up to two days.
Only found growing on the volcanic slopes of Mount Hualalai on the Island of Kona, the coveted 426 strain remains the strongest strain of Kava known today.
Available at health food stores and sold by herbal practitioners, kava powder, kava tea and kava enhanced tinctures are readily available.
Mood enhancer and sexual stimulant, kava heightens the joy found in companionship, love and intimacy.
Around the world, people seeking natural, organic relief of stress and the tensions of daily life, have promoted an increased awareness and medical research into kava, one of nature’s most interesting plants. Maintaining ethnic tradition, Kauai natives continue to use mystical beverage to welcome guests, resolve conflicts and encourage storytelling and goodwill.