The word “Kava” is derived from the term “kawaRi” which means “bitter root”.
Kava is used as a recreational and ceremonial beverage. In the past, Kava beverages were considered to be a royal drink. Nowadays, Kava beverages are used to assist in reducing anxiety by drinking it in good company.
Kavalactone Effects on Human Body
Kava is a social drink promoting peace and relief, this is all thanks to Kavalactones. Kavalactones are thought to enhance ligand binding to the GABA🇦 receptor by inhibiting the activation of neurons.
The higher the concentration of Kavalactones, the more effective the effects are. The roots are what contain the highest concentration of Kavalactones, and is usually sold labeled as “Waka Kava”. The concentration of Kavalactones decreases as you go higher up on the anatomy of the plant towards the stem and leaves.
Kavalactone Concentration in Different Parts
While comparing the quantity of Kavalactones in different parts of the plant, it is observed to be 15%, 10%, and 5% are found in the root, stump, and basal stems respectively. The relative content of the Kavalactones depends not only on the part of the plant but also on the cultivars, plant maturity, and time of harvest.
Maturity of Kava Plant Root
Kava beverages are prepared the same way whether it’s for daily or ceremonial use. The ideal Kava plant is at least three to four years of age before it is cultivated. Kava beverages can be prepared by using the dry powdered Kava root or from fresh Kava root. While comparing both types, fresh Kava root is more effective and has a more complex Kavalactone line-up, but we can only import and export powdered forms.
Pacific Islanders typically use fresh Kava roots, because of their high potency of Kavalactones. Dried Kava roots are less effective than fresh ones as numerous volatile components are lost during the drying process. However, the drying process allows for easier storage, transportation, and trade.
Effect of Age on Kava root
The age of the Kava plant root matters a lot as it has a significant effect on the potency of Kava. With time, the amount of Kavalactones in the roots increases. If the roots are not mature enough, the root will have a low Kavalactone concentration and is usually banned from being sold as it gets people sick due to other chemicals that haven’t yet had the chance to fade out of the plant.
The average mature age of the root of the Kava plant is considered to be three to four years and ideally even older. Roots that are three to four years old are considered to be good enough for exporting. If the age of the root is less than three years, then its export is prohibited as it doesn’t meet the quality criteria.
Effects of Aging on Kavalactone Concentration
With time, the amount of Kavalactones in the root of the Kava plant increases, increasing the weight and size of the root. Thicker, and larger roots sell for higher prices and are deemed more valuable. Many Kava farmers have a special area of Kava plants on their farms that span over ten years of age for special occasions and to celebrate important life events such as weddings.
The older the Kava root, the higher concentration of Kavalactones!
There are two categories of Kava root; lateral root and crown root. The roots with comparatively larger diameters that look like wooden poker chips when cut are considered crown roots. Upon harvesting, crown roots are approximately 80% of the Kava plant.
The smaller roots from the crown root are called lateral roots. A mature Kava plant, upon harvesting, approximately consists of only 20% lateral root. Lateral roots contain the highest concentration of Kavalactones compared to the rest of the plant.
The lateral roots are what’s desired, and make up what is deemed to be “Waka Kava” by Fijians.
All the properties of Kava depend on the content of Kavalactones present in the roots of the Kava. The quantity of Kavalactones is higher in aged and mature Kava plants. The ideal age for a mature Kava plant is four years for harvesting and exporting.
There are several Kava plant species in which the amount of Kavalactones vary, and their overall profiles differ. Everyone classifies the different variations of Kavalactone concentrations using a standard called a “kava chemotype”.