An Introduction to the Varieties of Kava

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What types of kava are and why they are important

What is kava?

Kava is an earthy beverage that has been consumed by Pacific Islanders for over 3000 years. It’s made from a pepper shrub, Piper methysticum, where the root is harvested and ground down and pulverized in water before it’s strained and drunk. It has a long and rich tradition in island nations as a ceremonial and medicinal plant. It’s known for its relaxing, calm, social effects and has recently been linked to health benefits such as reducing anxiety, relaxing muscles, and helping with insomnia (the inability to fall asleep).

It’s gained popularity in North America as an alternative to drinking coffee and alcohol due to its similar effects without the negative side effects.

The origins of Kava

There are 8 different South Pacific Islands where kava is known to originate; Hawaii, Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, and French Polynesia. The different climates, soil conditions, and mineral compounds are what make each type of kava from these places different. The origin, or where it comes from, is the often considered best way to categorize kava.

Each of these origins has different strains with their kava plants. A strain is a slight genetic variation within a species. These variations are what make each strain unique and have slightly different effects.

<em>Different varieties of kava <em><em>Photo credit The Kava Society<em>

The active ingredient in kava

Kavalactones are the active ingredients of kava. Kavalactones are chemicals that interact with the chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters to impact how your brain functions. This is what causes the calm, sedating and relaxed effects kava is known for.

There have been 18 different types of kavalactones identified but only 6 of them are known to be responsible for the effects of kava. These are Methysticin (M), Dihydromethysticin (DHM), Yangonin (Y), Desmethoxyyangonin (DMY), Kavain (K), and Dihydrokavain (DKM).

Types of kava

There are more than 100 types of kava that we know of. However, they can be split up into two broad groups; Nobel kava and Tudei kava. These two varieties are incredibly different in their effects on the body and mind.

Tudei kava is not recommended. It has much higher levels of psychoactive kavalactones and unpleasant side effects of nausea, sluggishness, and major headache. The effects can last up to 48 hrs leaving many feeling trapped in a drunk-like state. 

Nobel kavas on the other hand have a much more balanced combination of kavalactones that promote relaxing and calming effects. The feelings from Nobel kava last only 1-3 hours without any extra unwanted side effects. This makes it possible to enjoy it everyday. It’s a general rule that you should ONLY consume Noble kavas.

There are many different types of Nobel kavas that can have three different effects; heady, heavy and balanced.

Heady vs Heavy vs balanced kavas

While kavas in general are known for promoting relaxation, calmness and an overall state of well being, the combination of kavalactones can slightly change its specific effects on your body and mind. These can be categorized as heady, heavy and balanced.

Heady kavas affect your mind more than your body. They tend to have a higher concentration of lighter kavalactones and give off a cerebral effect by reducing anxiety and depression, and make you feel mentally relaxed. These varieties are best drunk during the day when you need a little boost or when you’re socializing with friends and family.

Heavy kavas are made up of the heavier kavalactones and give you a stronger body sensation. They have a sedating effect, relaxing your muscles often making your body and limbs feel heavy. These kavas promote a deeper relaxation and are longer lasting than heady kavas so they are best drunk at night when getting ready for sleep or down time rather than socializing.

Balanced kavas, as you may have guessed, are a good middle ground between heavy and heady kavas. These can be used both during the day or at night, depending on how much you take. Balanced kavas are a great option for anyone, beginners and seasoned users alike who want to experience the full spectrum of the effects kava has to offer. 

Why knowing your kava is important

Hopefully by now you’ve learned that not all kava is the same. And while it may not seem that important to know about the different strains and effects it definitely matters if you are drinking kava for a specific purpose. You wouldn’t want to take a heavy kava if you were going to a social event looking for a heady experience would you? Becoming more familiar with the different types, strains and effects will both make sure you’re getting the effects you want and empower you in your experience. 


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An Introduction to the Varieties of Kava


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