In some countries, teas are highly revered that there are ceremonies for it. In Japan and China, tourists watch or participate in tea ceremonies all year round. In some islands in the Pacific, there’s a special tea tradition involving a well-loved drink called kava tea or kava kava. Learn more about what makes kava tea special, as well as the side effects to watch out for when trying this drink.
What Is Kava Tea?
Kava tea comes from kava (Piper methysticum), a small shrub that's native to islands in the South Pacific. Other nicknames for kava tea include kava kava and 'awa.1 Kava kava is usually served in a coconut shell and swallowed in one or two gulps. Drinking kava kava entails that you mention thoughts of gratitude, especially towards the person who served the drink.2
Kava tea is often consumed before religious rituals or ceremonies, formal functions, social events and/or get-togethers of senior members of a village. However, if very special guests arrive for an occasion, there is a completely different kava ceremony involved.3 Aside from cultural impacts, kava tea is respected for its medicinal prowess. The kava plant’s roots and underground stem are also used medicinally and made into extracts, pills and drinks.4
Health Benefits of Kava Tea
Kava tea has been linked to health benefits that people can take advantage of, including:
• Anesthetic and analgesic: Kava tea may assist with pain and muscle spasm relief.
• Anti-inflammatory and antiseptic: If you have problems related to coughs and colds like a sore throat or respiratory tract infection, kava tea can be useful.
• Antibacterial and antifungal: This drink may help in eliminating infection and/or germ-causing bacteria from the bladder.
• Diuretic: Kava tea may help ease urinary tract infections and other bladder infections. Its diuretic abilities may also assist people with kidney problems by addressing the cause of the condition and ensure optimal kidney health.
People who want to build muscle and achieve the right muscle tone may potentially benefit from kava tea too. Its diuretic capabilities may reduce water retention and aid in eliminating excess water from the body. Kava tea may promote relief from anxiety and stress. Low-dose benzodiazepines in the drink may normalize the body’s hormonal activities and minimize the release of stress hormones in the bloodstream.
Meanwhile, kavalactones in kava tea can stimulate healthy sleep patterns by calming the mind and reducing body aches. This makes kava tea helpful for people suffering from insomnia or sleeplessness.
Kavalactones may also help calm the mind and promote concentration and focus and eventually help curb major symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) like hyperactivity, stress, tension, anxiety, forgetfulness and attention deficiency. Other benefits linked to kava tea’s anxiety- and stress-relieving abilities include:
• Potentially assist with appetite control and systematic weight loss: People who suffer from unwanted and uncontrolled stress tend to snack heavily between meals, which can be a precursor for weight gain.
• Minimize hair fall and hair loss: It can reduce the risk for hair problems like thinning and balding.
• Help calm hyperactive nerves: Kava tea may aid in reducing hyper physical activities and promoting stability.
Kava tea may promote sound hormonal health and assist women in dealing with menopause symptoms like mood swings and irritability. Furthermore, kava tea can be offered to patients who have suffered from a stroke, so long as it has been permitted by a doctor. It may help them recover from the effects of the incident and inhibit the convulsive effect, which may reduce the risk of stroke recurrence.5
Kava can be applied topically to help address skin diseases like leprosy, promote wound healing and act as a painkiller, or be used as a mouthwash to target canker sores and toothaches.6 Lastly, kava root may also be useful for reducing and numbing certain sensations in aching body parts for temporary periods of time. However, the root can cause numbing in the tongue for some time after it’s chewed.7
A warning before drinking kava tea for stress relief: Take note that there are side effects linked to this drink. Talk to a doctor first to know how you can drink kava tea without developing side effects.
Kava Tea Nutrition Facts
A tablespoon of generic kava kava or kava tea contains 35 calories, alongside 7 grams of total carbohydrates and a gram of dietary fiber:8
|Amt. Per |
|% Daily |
|Calories from Fat||0|
|Total Fat||0 g||0%|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrates||0 g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber||0 g||2%|
|Vitamin A 0%||Vitamin C||0%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Unfortunately, there isn’t sufficient information regarding the caffeine content of kava tea.
How to Prepare Kava Tea
Kava tea is made by simmering the kava plant’s roots in water, although the tea can also be produced by combining kava powder with water. If you’re buying kava powder, ensure that it contains kava root extract so you can reap the drink’s benefits.9 To see if you have bought an instant mix or not, check if the powder completely dissolves in water without leaving any residue.10
In the Pacific Islands, kava tea is made by straining 1 to 2 ounces of dried kava powder (approximately 2 to 4 tablespoons per person) in water using a nylon stocking, cheesecloth, strainer or muslin bag. The bag is immersed in a bowl of cool water. Afterwards, the kava powder is kneaded using the hands. At first, the powder will feel oily because of kava’s kavalactone content, but constant kneading will reduce the oiliness. Stop kneading once the powder doesn’t feel oily and the water is mud-like.
People who don’t feel like kneading powder can repetitively bring the strainer bag out of the bowl, squeeze it and place it back in the water. Meanwhile, if you don’t have enough time, you can brew kava tea by following this recipe:11
Traditional Kava Tea
• 2 to 4 tablespoons of dried kava powder
• 1 cup water
1. Combine the kava powder and water.
2. Blend together for four minutes.
3. Pour mixture into a nylon sieve or cheese cloth. Squeeze excess liquid into a bowl. Discard the pulp afterwards and enjoy.
A final word of advice when brewing kava tea: Always use cold or lukewarm water. Avoid using hot water because high temperatures can destroy its kavalactones.12
How to Store Kava Tea
Kava roots or powder must be stored in well-closed containers and protected from heat, light and moisture.13 Brewed kava tea can be stored inside your refrigerator for two weeks or more. After this period, it may “sour” instead of spoil, because of its high starch content. The more sterile your hands and kava drink-making equipment are, the longer the drink will last in the refrigerator.14
Kava Tea Dangers to Watch Out For
When drinking kava tea, consume each serving 10 minutes apart. Kavain, a kavalactone in the plant, can result in kava tea side effects. Other effects of kavalactones in the plant may not register for 30 minutes.15
Liver damage is the most serious side effect of excessive kava tea consumption. Kavain triggers liver damage by narrowing blood vessels and prompting liver cell lining to retract. Although this effect is rare, kava tea may cause liver problems in healthy people. If you have liver disease or a history of liver problems, refrain from drinking kava tea.16,17
Another side effect of long-term, heavy and consistent consumption of kava is the development of a scaly skin rash called a dermopathy. There are three possible causes for this, namely:
• An interference with cholesterol metabolism
• Niacin deficiency, which can cause skin changes
• Binding of certain metabolites to skin proteins, triggering an immune response
Fortunately, dermopathy may be reversible after stopping consumption of kava tea.18 Avoid consuming kava tea alongside substances like alcohol, sedatives or prescription antidepressants, because this can lead to a high risk of adverse effects, such as worsened depression.19 On the other hand, people with Parkinson’s disease must avoid drinking kava tea because this can exacerbate the disease.
If you’re scheduled to undergo surgery, stop drinking kava tea two weeks before the procedure. Kava may affect the central nervous system and increase the effects of anesthesia and other medicines utilized during and after surgery. It’s not advisable for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and very young children to drink kava tea, because it can affect the uterus. Some chemicals in kava tea may also be passed to the breastmilk and can negatively affect the development of an infant.20
Meanwhile, avoid drinking kava tea before driving. Incidents of “driving-under-the-influence” connected to kava tea have been issued to people because they drove erratically after drinking large amounts of this beverage.21
You Can Enjoy Kava Tea, but Do It Carefully
Food (and beverages) can be a unique part of a group’s culture, and the Pacific Islanders’ respect for kava tea or kava kava proves this. Although kava tea may not be familiar to people living on the other side of the globe, this drink's potential to positively impact the body can make a change for some people.
However, drinking kava tea may have its drawbacks, especially when consumed in excess. This beverage may enhance the effects of certain medications, worsen the conditions of some people or trigger side effects like liver damage and dermopathy. As such, it’s advisable to consult a doctor or specialist before drinking kava tea.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Kava Tea
Q: Does kava tea work?
A: Yes. Kava tea can provide various benefits. This drink is known to contain anesthetic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and diuretic properties. Kava tea can also be beneficial in relieving stress and anxiety, addressing menopause symptoms, alleviating skin conditions and more.
Q: Is kava tea safe to drink?
A: Kava tea is safe to drink. However, side effects like liver damage and a scaly skin rash called dermopathy are known to develop if kava tea is consumed in excessive amounts.
Q: Does kava tea show up on drug tests?
A: Kava may or may not show up in routine drug tests like a urinary test or a gas chromatography/mass spectometry.22
Q: Where do you buy kava tea?
A: Kava stores in islands like Fiji or Vanuatu are good places to look for kava products. If you happen to go on a vacation in any of these islands, you might want to ask locals for help. However, stores like this are uncommon in the U.S., so you can consider buying kava tea and other kava products from a reputable website.23