Kava: A Healing Herb of the Pacific Islands

Kava: A Healing Herb of the Pacific Islands, image of a kava leaf

Traveling across the Pacific Ocean destined for island exploration in the 1770’s, Captain James Cook encountered native people drinking a bitter brew they called kava. They believed the drink facilitated access to the spirit realm. Made from the pounded and liquified rhizome of a tropical plant, a few sips of kava left the mouth a bit numb and the body infused with calm. Consumed in larger quantities, kava produced euphoria–hence, the spiritual connection. Once brought from the islands to the mainland, kava was originally reserved for the upper crust of society with recreational use, eventually expanding to medicinal use.

Kava (Piper methysticum) became recognized as a botanical medicine used to:

  • reduce nervous tension
  • elevate mood
  • induce sleep (relieve insomnia)

Kava has been used as a substitute for prescription medications that treat the symptoms of anxiety. It has been shown to relieve nervous tension associated with PMS and menopause. Holistic health practitioners also use kava to address certain patterns of sleep disturbance.

Numerous clinical studies have investigated the effectiveness of kava in comparison to conventional anti-anxiety drugs. The results have been consistent: Kava is shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and irritability while also improving sleep.

Like with many supplements, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medications, it is important to work with a qualified holistic health practitioner who has expertise in botanical medicine.


Piscopo, G. “Kava Kava: A Gift of the Islands.” Abstract. Alternative Medicine Review 2, no. 5 (1997). Accessed 3 January 2022. http://www.anaturalhealingcenter.com/documents/Thorne/articles/KavaKava.pdf

Johnson, R.L., S. Foster, T. Low Dog, and D. Kiefer. “Kava” as cited in National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. pp 31-33. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. (2012)

Pizzorno, J. E. Textbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO Elsevier. (2013)

Call Now