Scientific Classification:

Kingdom Plantae
Division Angiosperms
Class Magnoliids
Order Piperales
Family Piperaceae
Genus Piper
Species P. methysticum
Binomial name Piper methysticum

Other Common Names:

The other common names for the shrub kava-kava are Awa, Waka, Lawena, Ava Pepper, Ava, Intoxicating Pepper, Sakau and Yaqona.


Piper methysticum is the botanical name of the plant more commonly known as kava. The Piper genus is made up of at least 1000 species, maybe 2000 or more.

The Botanical name Piper methysticum is derived from Latin and Greek words. Piper is the Latin word for pepper, and methysticum is the Greek word meaning intoxicating. The name Piper methysticum can be translated into English as intoxicating pepper. Explorer Captain James Cook gave this plant the botanical name of 'intoxicating pepper'.


An indigenous shrub several feet him, leaves cordate, acuminate, with very short axillary spikes of flowers; stem dichotamars, spotted. Commercial Kava rhizome is in whitish on grey-brown roughly wedge-shaped fragments from which the periderm is cut off about 2 inches thick; the transverse section usually shows a dense central pith, surrounded by a clean ring of vascular bundles, narrow and radiating, separated by broadish light-maloced medullary rays.

The natives prepare fermented liquor from the upper portion of the rhizone and base of the stems; it is narcotic and stimulant and is drunk before important religious rites. The root of the plant, chewed and mixed with the saliva, gives a hot into rating juice; it is mixed with pure water or the water of the coco-nut. Its continued use in large doses causes inflammation of the body and eyes, resulting in leprous ulcers, the skin become parched and peel off in scales. Fracture starchy, faint pleasant odour, taste bitter, pungent, and aromatic; it yields not more than 8 per cent, of ash.


Piper methysticum is thought to have originated in Oceania (a region made up of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and various islands in the same area), but the exact location is not known. It is spread eastward by seafaring islanders, into Fiji and Polynesia, and west to New Guinea and Micronesia.


It grows best between 300 and 500 metres above sea level. Good places to grow kava are under old coconut trees, on a slope which keeps the soil well-drained. Rich soil with organic matter is preferred. Kava kava is usually grown on frames and needs well-drained stony soil and a lot of shade. They need high temperatures and high humidity all year round to thrive.


Piper methysticum is not grown from seed as its flowering parts are usually sterile. The most common means of propagation is division of the root-mass, or removal of offsets from the root-ball of the plant. To perform a division, remove the plant from its container, remove excess soil and split the root-ball up in appropriate looking places. Removing offsets is a little simpler as obvious looking offsets need only be pulled off the edge of the root-ball. Piper methysticum may also be propagated via greenwood nodal stem cuttings in summer. Remove cuttings with a sterile blade from this year's growth (if firm or greenwood) and pot up in a rich but open potting mixture (a 50/50 mix of organic compost and vermiculite or coconut coir would be ideal). The cuttings will need to be placed somewhere warm (20°C - 25°C or 68°F - 77°F) and humid; ideally in a heated propagator. These plants should be reported annually for the first few years and less often thereafter. If you are growing this Kava Kava in the greenhouse/conservatory, regular pruning (just above a leaf node) will help keep the plant compact and bushy and stop it outgrowing its surroundings. Harvesting is done by uprooting the whole plant. Roots are thoroughly washed and seperated from stem and branches before they are sun dried. Dry roots are sold as whole or made to a fine powder in a kava pounder.

Pests and Diseases

Numerous pests and plant diseases are a constant threat to large-scale 'awa cultivation and can cause irreversible damage and crop loss. A viral disease, kava di eback, is the major threat to Piper methysticum cultivation throughout the Pacific. As its name implies, this disease can kill plants, especially in their first year of growth. The virus is the cucumber mosaic cucumovirus (CMV), which has a wide host range, infecting various common weeds and crops in Hawai'i. Controlling this disease can mean success or failure for kava growers. The virus is transmitted between plants by the melon aphid (Aphis gossypii, also known as the cotton aphid),a small, sap-feeding, and sometimes winged insect. Ants spread, tend, and protect the aphids and eat their postfeeding secretions.

Parts Used


The dried roots and the rhizomes are the most commonly used parts of the plant for its medicinal and commercial value.

Medicinal Applications


• Kava and kavalactones are shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety at subclinical and clinical levels, anxiety associated with menopause and anxiety due to various medical conditions.

• It also has properties that might make it effective at helping people with social phobia. Kava can also be ingested as a medication to treat insomnia.

• Some pain sufferers find kava can reduce the amount of pain they feel. In some cases, this is due to the muscle relaxing effect of kava.

• Larger doses are best for people who suffer from insomnia, or for some other reason need to get some sleep. Vivid dreams are often reported by people who fall asleep while under the influence of low-moderate amounts of kava.

• Some compounds found in kava have been shown to reduce the formation and growth of cancer cells.

• Another use for kava is as a weight loss agent.

• It as an aphrodisiac because when consumed in large quantities kava kava produces a euphoric state.

• Another use for kava is as a weight loss agent.

• kava was used to treat venereal diseases, especially gonorrhea.

• Kava kava is a good medicine for chronic pain. It relaxes muscles and reduces sensitivity thereby helping relieve pain.

• Kava kava has diuretic properties and along with its pain killing abilities, it is very good in the treatment of rheumatic and arthritic problems like gout.

• The herb is good for toothache and canker sores. Kava can be used as an analgesic mouthwash as well.

• The herb is commonly used to relieve tension headache.


According to the astro reports the shrub kava kava is under the influence of the planet

Folklores and Myths

At traditional social gatherings and in cultural and religious ceremonies Pacific Islanders use Kava as a relaxant to achieve a higher level of consciousness. It is still offered to guests and dignitaries visiting the Pacific Islands. The roots are chewed or ground into a pulp and added to cold water and can be made into a mildly narcotic beverage that is comparable to popular cocktails in our culture. A tea of kawa a tea of Kava is said to offer protection against evil and invite good luck. It is also sprinkled around the home and property for the same uses. The plant was then, and still is, made into a thick brew to serve as a folk medicine, the consumption of which is usually accompanied by some type of religious ceremony. Kava was used as currency in trade, offered up at weddings, and consumed daily as an integral part of island society. Among most mainline Christian denominations, i.e. the Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Anglican churches, kava drinking is encouraged where it replaces the greater danger of alcohol.