Kava Tea: Is The Beverage Safe To Drink?

Last Updated: July 30, 2021

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

During traditional rituals in Pacific Island culture, Kava tea made from the root of the Piper methysticum plant is used to create a strong sedative drink with anesthetic properties. Australians use the famed tea to treat alcoholism which has resulted in a sharp decrease in alcohol-related harm. In the US, pills made from the root are legally used as a dietary supplement. The beverage has transcended generations and crossed borders and is used worldwide for its muscle-relaxant effects. It is therefore advisable to drink it in the privacy of your home to avoid lethargy during work hours. Apart from the drink, there are also other ways to take these herbal products including foods, pills, and tinctures, some of which are more dangerous than others.

Read on to find out the effects of Ava drink on the body and the best way to take this herb. Learn how the root extract produced by specific methods may be linked to adverse health outcomes. Discover the history behind the famous Kava drink, its derivatives, medicinal qualities, benefits to the body, and how to prepare it.

Kava Tea: The History of Kava Ceremonies

Originally Kava Tea, also known as Kava kava, Awa, or Kawa kawa tea was meant for the celebration of life events such as births, deaths, and marriage ceremonies. The natural drink also served as a medium to fellowship with the spirits. However, in recent times the Kava drink is used as part of elaborate ceremonies to welcome visitors, settle conflicts, and begin special events. Ava is widely grown and used in Polynesia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Melanesia, and Australia. However, due to medical reasons, the tea was banned in Germany and a few countries around the world in the 2000s. Recently some courts in Germany, Wales, and other parts of Europe have lifted the ban on the drink. Nevertheless, Awa tea has always been legal in the US.

Yes, the popular tea is legal in the US. Unlike Europe, Kava tea has never been banned or controlled. Americans use the drink to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. However, the Kava kava root has been linked to several liver problems hence its European ban. Nonetheless, it is perfectly legal to purchase and consume the beverage in the United States although the FDA has issued a warning to patrons who have liver problems to be circumspect in taking the Kava drink. It encourages users to take the drink in moderation to avoid any adverse health effects.

Kava Tea Bars in the US

The natural drink is not difficult to lay hands on in the US, and is very common. The Kava kava tea can be procured from sellers across the country and online shops. Yogi Kava tea is also available in tea bags in shops and it contains 78mg of the Ava root extract. For people who want to enjoy an already brewed Awa tea, one of the about 100 Kawa kawa bars in the US would be of great help. Physicians, however, recommend that daily consumption of Awa products shouldn’t exceed 250 mg to avoid any negative effects.

Patrons and lovers of Kawa kawa products have opened several bars dedicated to serving Yogi Kava tea in the US. Some of the states include Hawaii, Illinois, Montana, Missouri, Michigan, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. Currently, California, New York, and Florida are known to have the largest number of Awa bars in the country, with Florida topping them all with over 50 Kawa kawa bars.

Cups with Kava tea.

Preparing Awa Tea

Traditionally, preparing the Kava drink involved a lot of stress. First, the Kava kava root is ground into a powder. Then a handful of Kawa kawa powder is poured into a strainer. The strainer containing the powder was then placed inside an empty bowl with warm water poured over the powder. The strainer was then squeezed till every drop of water left the strainer. However, the methods used to make the tea in modern times are slightly different. Using the blender method, pour the desired amount of Awa powder into the blender and add cold water. Blend the mixture for 3-4 minutes, pour the mixture into a strainer, and squeeze it into a clean bowl. The simplest way to make Awa drink is by purchasing the tea bag from stores and immersing one tea bag in warm water.

Other Ways to Take Awa Root

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Awa tea and its supplements may help reduce anxiety and sleep problems, but differences in the preparation methods and dosage affect the usefulness of this herbal remedy. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings about the possibility of liver damage, heart problems, skin changes, and eye irritation associated with the intake of this herb which is also called Ava pepper.

Awa products are administered in several ways including pills and coffee. However, to get the best effects of the root, the tincture form comes highly recommended.

Kawa Kawa Instant Coffee

Kava tea and coffee are some of the most common ways to take this Polynesian herbal remedy. However, some people believe that boiling the kava root or powder to make tea or coffee destroys the most active parts of the herb. On the other hand, blending it into a liquid of choice to create a kava drink is convenient and produces a smooth and relaxing beverage.

Another disadvantage of Kawa kawa instant coffee or similar methods of intake is that it does not allow the user to control the percentage of kavalactones in the drink. Kavalactones are the compounds that are believed to lower anxiety, treat sleep disorders and produce a feeling of relaxation. If the beverage contains too few kavalactones, it may not be effective. On the other hand, excessive intake of these compounds can lead to severe complications such as liver damage. Hence, consult the doctor before using this herb, even though Kawa kawa seems harmless, it can cause some adverse reactions or even addiction.

A big bowl of Kava tea.

Powder Form of Piper Methysticum Intake

Another common and convenient way to consume Kawa is the powder form. Micronized Awa is like traditional powder, only pulverized finer, and can be mixed in water or fruit juice. This form of intake with powder should be chugged quickly to prevent settling down of sediments. If it is being consumed slowly, it is a good idea to stir the drink occasionally. Fresh fruit or coconut milk chaser is often helpful in washing away the earthy taste of the Kava root.

It takes up to 20 minutes for the kavalactones in the powder to act, so a repeat of the instant drink should be spaced out accordingly.

Kawa Kawa Pills and Capsules

There are two primary advantages of using Kava pills as a method of intake. The first is convenience since this method does not require time-consuming preparation of the herb or in-depth knowledge about how to prepare Awa. The second advantage is that Kava pills contain a known and measured amount of the extract, thereby making them one of the safest methods of intake with a lower risk of serious health consequences. Besides, pills and capsules mask the taste of the root, making it more palatable to users. It comes in 700mg and is legally used as a dietary supplement. 

Thus, the pills don’t place much stress on the liver compared to the other Awa products. The pills are available in pharmacies and online stores.

Awa Tinctures

A tincture is a liquid form of Ava that is sold in small bottles. A dropper may be used to administer tiny amounts under the tongue. Some people who get nausea from drinking the kava root extract find that tincture placed under the tongue is better tolerated. Kawa kawa dabs, made with CO2 extraction, are another type of concentrate. It is worth remembering that the concentration of kavalactones is very high in tinctures and dabs, and therefore, only a small amount should be used. It is available in bottles ranging from 59-177mL.

The tincture is legally sold in the US and can be purchased at stores, both online and offline. Liquid root extract products are also more potent than other ways, and users should take just a tiny dose. Its side effects include dizziness, restlessness, drowsiness, and skin reactions. People with liver problems are advised to stay off the use of Awa as it can have dire consequences on their health.

Kavalactone Paste

In traditional Pacific ceremonies, the root of the plant is ground into a paste, either by hand or by chewing it and spitting it out. Therefore, Kawa kawa paste is the conventional method of intake. A smooth melting paste that is organically extracted without the use of toxic solvents is one of the safest ways to intake the herb. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon to experience Kawa kawa side effects, which is believed to be due to the effects of the root extract on the liver.

However, it is a legal product because research reveals that intoxicated Awa tea users can think clearly and hold sensible conversations. Users, however, sleep quickly and have minimal difficulty in coordinating movement.

Awa Oil Efficacy

Another Kava kava extract is an essential oil distilled from the tropical evergreen shrub that grows in the Pacific Basin is believed to be particularly effective in alleviating stress and insomnia. Many people swear by Kawa kawa extract massage oil benefits after a hectic day at work. The advantage of this type of stress relief is that it results in relaxation while keeping the mind sharp. Also, people who do not like the natural slightly bitter, peppery taste of the root can benefit from this herbal remedy without oral intake.

Foods and Sweets With Awa

For the convenience of users, manufacturers have put several types of Awa candy on the market. This preparation is infused with the natural herb and comes in tasty flavors, making it extremely easy to take and relax the body. Awa chocolate comes in several delicious flavors and is a convenient method of stress management at the workplace and during travel when complicated preparation of drinks or use of tinctures is not possible. Shots are available as a liquid form of intake with sufficient potency to be effective even in regular users.

Best Way to Use Kawa Kawa Extracts

For first-time users, blending the powder into a liquid of choice is a good starting point for the intake of this herbal remedy. Awa coffee or Yogi Kava tea mixed with milk are potent, as are tinctures added to a drink, and these should be consumed carefully in the privacy of your home; sleeping during work hours is not ideal. For people who do not like the taste of the root, pills, and capsules may be the best option to enjoy its benefits without any hassle.

Note that any type of intake may cause addiction if abused, and a person should always take into account the Kawa interactions. Do not hesitate to ask for help in the rehabilitation facilities for substance abusers. The medical professionals will create a treatment plan for addiction that will meet all the needs and requirements of the patient.

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Page Sources

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Published on: April 15th, 2019

Updated on: July 30th, 2021

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.