It’s hard for most of us to avoid a certain amount of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue these days. The pace of modern life, and all its excessive stimulation, takes a toll on our bodies and minds. When we can’t escape from it, many of us resort to harmful addictions or medications to help us through. In the last couple of decades, though, certain natural (plant-derived) substances have begun to garner reputations for helping to give people an overall feeling of well being. St John’s Wort is one notable example of an herb used to treat depression. Another, which is more commonly associated with combating anxiety and easing stress, is Kava.
Kava is a relatively recent arrival on the shelves of health stores. Requiring a warm and moist climate, the plant had previously been known only around the South Pacific islands – particularly, New Guinea, New Zealand, and Hawaii. There it was renowned for promoting, in those who imbibed it, feelings of relaxation and contentment – and, in large doses, of intoxication. Many old native practices for the preparation of Kava involved chewing bits of the root (where its active ingredients, known as kavalactones, chiefly reside) and spitting them out into a great bowl. Once enough was accumulated, this pretty unappetizing mead was mixed with water or coconut milk until desired strength was achieved.
Probably few of us would be adventurous enough to sample that original version of the drink, and chewing the root itself numbs one’s mouth much like Novocain. Fortunately, nowadays we have access to Kava in either a powdered (crushed root) form or in capsules. Ground powder is placed in a fine-mesh bag (nylon stockings work well), which is then dipped into a bowl full of water. One kneads the bag until the infusion reaches its proper color; then the bag is thoroughly squeezed and set aside for later use (the same bag can be used to make at least two or three more bowls). With capsules, it’s recommended that one take dosages of 100-200 milligrams three times daily (300-600 milligrams total). This amount can be taken all at once at nighttime if one is using Kava as a sleep aid.
It seems now that the friendly and relaxed image we’re prone to have of islanders from the South Pacific may be related to their fondness for drinking Kava. Like other herbal remedies such as Valerian root, Kava does promote a calm mind as well as relaxed muscles (it affects the muscles directly, not through the nervous system like many other sedatives). It has no known side effects, and even people who overindulged in Kava were known to awaken feeling energetic and free of the hangovers that beer drinkers tend to get. Though Kava’s medicinal value has yet to receive the stamp of approval from the scientific community and the FDA, many who use it attest to its ability to provoke a general sense of ease and serve as a welcome antidote to the stresses of modern life.