Tudei will make you sleep for two days
January 4, 2011 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Kava: "a slightly bitter, slightly frothy, aromatic, resinous brew capable of inducing tranquility and an ultimate sense of wellbeing"

A feature of Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, and Vanuatuan ceremonies, narcotic namesake of kava culture, a key part of international politics in the Pacific, an alternative medicine and anti-energy drink, Kava is not without controversy.
posted by Paragon (45 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The flavor of Kava, like cilantro and licorice , is one of those things that people either love or hate.

However, as someone who can't stan the taste, I highly recommend the Yogi Tea kava flavor. It is fantastic!
posted by Freen at 6:16 PM on January 4, 2011

Mmmm. Try some Kava Blue today!
posted by John of Michigan at 6:18 PM on January 4, 2011

I used to order Kava Kava from a farm in Hawaii. I never really found its effects to be all that noticeable...really not much more than being present with a cup of chamomile tea. I had to steep it myself though so I was never sure if I was doing it correctly...
posted by jnnla at 6:24 PM on January 4, 2011

"a slightly bitter, slightly frothy, aromatic, resinous brew..."

No, it just tastes like mud. Mud that makes your mouth go slightly numb.
posted by ninazer0 at 6:29 PM on January 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

While working as the supplement manager of a health food store reps were eager to give me all sorts of samples. Oh, how the kava did flow. One particular formulation left me so relaxed it felt just like hypoglycemia: a very uncomfortable relaxation.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:33 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pepsi Bleah
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:34 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the real, I quite dig the taste of pushing my tongue into the wet dirt, but the accompanying mouth-numbness and heaviness in the stomach are a trifle unpleasant to me. And bear in mind (when I say it feels heavy in the stomach) that I'm a gent who regularly unhinges my jaw to swallow two to three pounds of Taco Bell at a sitting.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:37 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

."a slightly bitter, slightly frothy, aromatic, resinous brew capable of inducing tranquility and an ultimate sense of wellbeing massive liver damage with very little effort!
posted by smoke at 6:38 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a requirement for my visa in NZ a medical panel was required. A week later I got a call that my liver enzyme levels are severely elevated which may indicate hepatitis and that I needed another test. This one comes back basically normal, and the doc and I are discussing what it could have been. I mention that I drank a Dixie cup of kava at the Hokitika Wild Food Festival about a month back. He looked at me like I was the stupidest person alive and said that yes, the kava did it and that is why so many Tongans die of liver failure.
posted by arruns at 6:39 PM on January 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

massive liver damage

Read it in a headline once, must be true!
posted by hermitosis at 6:50 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

No, it just tastes like mud. Mud that makes your mouth go slightly numb.

Or, as the menu of Portland's Pied Cow coffeehouse says, with perfect accuracy, "Tastes like dirt in a weird refreshing kind of way."
posted by ottereroticist at 6:51 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I drink it now and then as part of a fruit drink. I rather like it. But, then, I also like poppers.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:52 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

hermitosis, the risk of liver damage from kava supplements is well-documented, and kava beverage has been shown to affect liver enzymes.

That said, I take acetaminophen and drink alcohol myself, but I don't pretend that I'm not consuming substances with known risks of hepatic toxicity when I'm doing it. If the benefits of kava outweigh the risks for you, go for it, but suggesting that no risks have been demonstrated seems silly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:02 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Aborigines were getting stuck into it in Australia not long ago.

Not sure if they were doing any harm to themselves, but sure enough, the fun police soon took note and now it's either illegal, or highly controlled - different laws for different States.

Australian studies focused on populations with heavy concomitant consumption of alcohol and overall poor health. In one study, heavy kava use in an Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land was associated with overall poor health, a puffy face, scaly rash, and a slight increase in patellar reflexes.

I know it's only Wikipedia, but why include this factiod? Why not study a group WITHOUT overall poor health?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:02 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I participated in a kava ceremony on the TIGHAR expedition to Nikumaroro when the crew of the chartered ship, who were Fijian, became convinced that the bad vibes surrounding the expedition were caused by lack of proper respect to the patron goddess/guardian spirit of the island, Nei Manganibuka. (An alternate explanation, personality clashes among the Americans, wasn't as convincing to the crew.) So they decided to perform the ceremony that should have been done the first time we set foot on the island, in which we asked Nei Manganibuka's permission to wander around her island peacefully.

I've forgotten some of the details over the years, but the ceremony involved brewing a big bowl of kava and sharing a drink from a cup that we passed around. In Fiji, imposing wooden bowls and coconut shell dippers are used, but we made do with a plastic bucket from the ship's galley. Everyone sat on the sand in strict hierarchical order: the ship's captain, the Kiribati government representative and the expedition leaders closest to the bowl, the crew and dive team next, and the land team straggling along at the end. Women sat furthest from the bowl and were the last to drink. The captain and Kiribati official made speeches in their languages, which they roughly translated for us (basically asking forgiveness for skipping the ceremony earlier and asking Nei Manganibuka's blessing for the rest of the expedition to go more smoothly). Then we passed the cup around and drank the muddy brown liquid. It didn't taste like much of anything to me, but it made my tongue slightly numb for a while. At the end of the ceremony, we all put our hands on the sand and pressed the sand into our cheeks for the wind to blow away, as a gesture of respect.

That one taste of kava was enough for me - blecch. Unless they brewed it using dirty dishwater in the cook's dishwashing bucket, I can't understand why anybody would drink the stuff. Unless, of course, they wished to pay their respects to a Polynesian goddess.
posted by Quietgal at 7:11 PM on January 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

Ah, yes, kava. You can't possibly do fieldwork in West Polynesia without getting into it, and I've done my share. My liver still seems good enough, though. I've always described it as tasting like "drinking garden," but after you've done it enough you start to kinda appreciate the taste. It's a social beverage, though, so it's rather hard for me to separate the drinking of kava and its dirt flavor from the social setting of sitting around the bowl and being passed the coconut shell to drink.

In fact, kava once helped me earn the approval of a group of Tongans I was in a kava circle with. They were expecting this palangi to be knocked on his ass by the strength of the brew they were making, but I matched 'em shell for shell and at the end was rewarded with a slap on the back and the words "That was very good! You drink kava like a Tongan!"

I probably ought to put that on my CV.
posted by barnacles at 7:18 PM on January 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

Yeah, it's true, kava tastes like mud. I've had waka grade kava from Hawaii, and I've drunk it in the jungle in Fiji with the locals. For me, it's like a marijuana high without the stupidness - just the relaxation. But after developing a one glass a night habit, I got the dry scaly patches of skin that sometimes goes along with it, so that was the end of my kava evenings.
posted by conifer at 7:19 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

How to make a decent cup of kava.

If you use a pot at all, make sure it is pre-warmed. (I would add that you should do the same thing even if you are only using a cup or a mug)...
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

“When extracted in the appropriate way, Kava may pose less or no potential liver problems. I hope the results will encourage governments to reconsider the ban,” Mr Sarris said.

Full text of paper here (PDF) or here (HTML).

I'm not qualified to comment on it, but it seems the debate is still a live one.
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:23 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

My friend who went to Tonga brought me back a jar of Kava. I rather liked the effect, but the taste and texture left much to be desired. As far as my liver goes, I've been beating hell out of it for years anyway.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:43 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've drank kava a few times. Prepared by steeping in cold water and straining through some cheese cloth or something like that. I found it very relaxing. Kind of similar to the feeling of relaxation that comes along with slight drunkenness, but without the rest of the drunk experience. I have not experienced any catastrophic liver failure so far, though I probably also will not do kava in the future.
posted by !Jim at 7:50 PM on January 4, 2011

Kava is literally the most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth
posted by p3on at 7:54 PM on January 4, 2011

Can't do a trip to Fiji without a kava ceremony. I thought my fellow travellers were slightly offensive when they made a disgusted face and refused a second cup. I'm not known for regretting the things I didn't do... I matched the chief and his mates cup for cup, both times I was in Fiji.

Tastes disgusting, indeed, but it's part of the tourist experience, local culture, all that jazz. Why travel if you're going to insist on only partaking in familiar products and ceremonies? My mother was horrified that the kava-maker folded up the filtering cloth and tucked it between his dirty toes, between batches. As if that would make it taste worse.

But I was up for it. And I told the funniest jokes ever, on the way back to our accommodation. I suspect everyone else was laughing AT me as opposed to laughing WITH me, but at least we had fun. And the chief sought me out at a dance ceremony later that night for a chat, so I gather I made a good impression.

I guess it's not illegal in NSW, uncanny henchman, as I brought a pack back with me, confessed to Customs, and they let me keep it.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:04 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Celestial Seasonings used to make a tea that contained both kava and valerian: Sleepytime Extra. I used to dream my tits off on that stuff. Then the kava disappeared from the ingredients. Now I can only find the basic Sleepytime containing no valerian. It's useless. I just stay up all night now.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:09 PM on January 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Kava is literally the most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth

Well, the night is young, honey.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:33 PM on January 4, 2011 [34 favorites]

Read it in a headline once, must be true!

That's a bit unfair, mate. I suggest you're the one who needs to do some research, not me.

More broadly, whilst low consumption and certain preparation can reduce incidence of liver damage, like all "supplements" - kava extracts are practically un-regulated and un-tested here in Australia, with the end result that one spoonful of kava can differ dramatically from another, due to potency, preparation etc etc etc. Meaning that proper dosage is impossible to calculate, and injury is almost inevitable. Supplements is a crazy unregulated industry, given how many vitamins and whatnot can seriously fuck you up.
posted by smoke at 8:49 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a fair amount of alcoholism as well in Tonga. I wonder if there is an interaction between kava and alcohol that might encourage liver damage?

Well, I have some kava and a whole lot of kraken rum. I'll report back tomorrow.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:10 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Great for ceremonies or going to the dentist!
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:10 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess it's not illegal in NSW, uncanny henchman, as I brought a pack back with me, confessed to Customs, and they let me keep it.

Once someone called me unhinged hedge man. I laughed.

Yes, according to Wiki, it's "fully" illegal only in my state of WA, and the NT. I'm surprised there isn't some federal law covering it - drugs being bad [mmmkay] and all.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:25 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want something that tastes like coffee, but relaxes you like warm milk.

I tried lattes, but the three shots of espresso counter-acted the relaxation of the milk
posted by jb at 9:26 PM on January 4, 2011

Calling kava "controversial" is a silly. The drug has a long history of daily use in South Pacific island nations without widespread serious adverse affects. Since the FDA's famous 2002 warning a great deal of evidence has shown that impurities, poor quality control and overdosing were the main culprits. When taken as directed it is safer than many over the counter drugs.

Relax, it's just kava.
posted by euphorb at 9:27 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any drug that can turn you into a human lizard is ok in my book.
posted by benzenedream at 9:38 PM on January 4, 2011

Sorry, uncanny hengeman, very bad manners on my part. (I think I like uncanny henchman better though. It's like the lovechild of the old Batman series combined with the Uncanny X-men.)

After pondering for a while, I remembered a Fijiian woman at the last ceremony I was at, who only had one cup. She told me afterwards that her parents won't drink it, and none of her (no doubt gorgeous) brothers drink it either. They'd seen too many peers/neighbours/relatives get lazy and unmotivated, day after day after day, only wanting to drink kava and not catch fish or watch the kids or work in any way.

Hmm. Food for thought. (I'm still tempted to bust mine out tonight, though.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 10:14 PM on January 4, 2011

Oh man, kava. I remember when that stuff was legal. I was in university, going through a long period of nervous breakdown and self medicating with massive amounts of caffeine. Kava-kava was supposed to be the magic sedative that would let me live on cappuccino and coffee without going insane. I drank one or two kava smoothies every day, and sometimes took little kava capsules as well. It worked great for the first day or two, but the effects always diminished with time, which drove me to use more. When I started to twitch or had trouble concentrating, it was time for kava. But the liver couldn't metabolize it all that quickly, and the levels built up.

One day I completely lost the ability the feel emotion, or I thought I did. I was numb, empty, but still conscious and aware. It was like being a robot, I went through the motions that day but didn't care one way or another how they turned out. Then I sat in place for an hour and just stared at the wall. It didn't matter, nothing mattered. I could go to class, but why bother? I could go home, but that was no better than staying where I was.

There were two competing ideas going through my brain. The first and most convincing thought was that this experience was real. This was the true nature of reality that we all hide from ourselves by becoming emotionally attached to things. Somehow I'd been freed from the lies and self deception and could see truth clearly for the first time in my life. I should've been happy about this, but I didn't really care. Then the second thought was that I had been broken. There was something wrong with me, and I should go get it checked out. This seemed unlikely, but what the hell. So I went to the University health services.

The intern or whatever she was didn't have a clue what could be wrong with me. Her best guess was that my adrenal gland was worn out from overwork. Would it get better? She didn't know. Would I be like this forever? She couldn't say. So I decided to go home. Along the way I idly contemplated running into traffic just to see what would happen, but it was too much bother. Just going along with things, going through the rhythms like I did every day, was easier. That night I slept for about eight hours, which was twice as long as normal.

In the morning I seemed to be back to normal, because I started to worry about the whole experience. If I was broken, maybe it would happen again and my emotions wouldn't come back this time. Oh no! But I couldn't figure out what to do, so I went back to the University, and as I stood in line for a kava smoothie it suddenly struck me that this was the cause. Kava overdose! There was a ton of the stuff swirling around in my bloodstream, and my liver couldn't get rid of it fast enough. I could fix it by swearing off kava! What a relief.

And that was the end of my kava habit. Never touched the stuff again, and shortly after that the government prevented its sale, or banned it or whatever they did, and the smoothies went away. No doubt it was for the best. Looking back on it now, I'm still struck by how clearheaded and logical I felt that day. But I couldn't have been thinking straight, because it never once occurred to me during the experience that I had made it happen by taking all that kava. I was absolutely convinced that this was something being done to me, by capricious gods or medical mischance or a bolt of lightning from the sky. But that was just self deception.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:41 PM on January 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

Astro Zombie: "There's a fair amount of alcoholism as well in Tonga. I wonder if there is an interaction between kava and alcohol that might encourage liver damage?""

I can't remember the term for it, but I have heard from both Fijian and Tongan friends that it's a fairly well-known thing to do to have a bunch of shells of kava and then follow them up with some alcohol in order to get drunk faster. I've never actually tried it myself, but these folks swore it worked. Kava is remarkably cheap in Polynesia, and alcohol is (relatively) more expensive, and getting maximum value for money with alcohol could be viewed as a positive side effect by some.
posted by barnacles at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2011

I find that sitting quietly and letting my breath be naturally even and deep is approximately 100 million times more qualitatively relaxing and inwardly interesting than kava.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2011

Wait a second...(looks up ingredients on the tea that actually made her stoned a couple nights ago) That explains it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 PM on January 4, 2011

Just gotta post Erowid's page on Kava (though it hasn't been updated in a while, it looks like.)
posted by Catblack at 11:30 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find that sitting quietly and letting my breath be naturally even and deep is approximately 100 million times more qualitatively relaxing and inwardly interesting than kava.

The intoxicating effects of breathing are well known. Let's hope for the sake of our children that this will be made illegal soon.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:24 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

tapesonthefloor: "Now I can only find the basic Sleepytime containing no valerian."

Valerian smells like ass. No, it truly does.
posted by bwg at 1:40 AM on January 5, 2011

When your roommate the ethnobotanist says, "Here, drink this!" the correct answer is always, always, "no, get that disgusting cup of muddy water away from me."
posted by 1adam12 at 4:07 AM on January 5, 2011

Being for a short while president of the Swedish-Polynesian Friendship Society, I was (unceremoniously) presented with a handwoven fibre bag of roots. Informed that it was Kava Kava I knocked up a batch for my first members meet-up. Most of the Swedes (politely) declined the offer, preferring as ever, coffee.
I drank more than I had planned.
The effects felt far too much like going to the dentist to be really enjoyable. I still have the bag somewhere I guess, unless my wife threw it out in the move.

Later I learned that the good people of Tuvalu, given the choice, preferred whisky.
posted by jan murray at 4:21 AM on January 5, 2011

Interesting. "Kava" is also the word for "coffee" in Georgian. Actually, it's "ყავა", which involves a guttural q' sound, but close enough.

Anyway, back to your regular programming…
posted by LMGM at 7:40 AM on January 5, 2011

One night in Fiji, I spent about a thousand hours drinking kava and shooting the shit with the young men of a tiny village in the Yasawas island chain. As long as you kept talking, time slowed to a crawl.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:21 AM on January 5, 2011

I was disappointed to realize that this post was not about klava.
posted by gurple at 9:14 AM on January 5, 2011

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