Kava, An All-natural Sleep Aid

Naoshi Kaiuiokalani Grady imports the most potent, traditionally grown kava directly from a family farm on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji, grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Grady uses premium quality roots for his kava powder. Grady was born and raised in Kilauea, and his family’s kava roots run deep in Hawaiian culture.


For more than 3,000 years, kava has been brewed by Polynesians using the root of the giant pepper plant, Piper methisticum. Grady says there are hundreds of varieties in the Pacific Islands, each varying in taste, smell and potency.

Known as ‘awa in Hawaii, kava is believed to have originated in Vanuatu, an island nation located in the South Pacific. Kava is principally known in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, where considerable ceremony precedes drinking the bitter root infusion. The Hawaiian word for bitter is ‘awa.

Kava brewed from fresh roots is smooth and creamy with no bitter bite. There are no commercial ‘awa growers on Kaua‘i, so Grady imports a dried kava with a mild floral scent and smooth taste.

In ancient Hawaii, some of the drink was reserved for ali‘i, but was available to all men and was not a privilege of the elite as in Samoa, Tonga or Fiji. Traditionally, Pacific islanders have regarded kava with much respect for its spiritual and medicinal properties.

Drinking brewed kava root will make your mind and body calm. Anxiety is banished, and a peaceful alertness takes its place. If you don’t keep yourself busy, you will fall asleep! A slight numbing sensation on your tongue is normal.

Season: Kava usually takes the form of a large, rounded shrub with long branches. Roots may be harvested from 4-year-old plants, but they are most potent after age 7. Seeds rarely set in Hawaii, so propagation is done by stem sections.

Storage: Stored in a cool, dark place, kava will retain its potency for up to one year.

Preparation: Waialeale Kava Source makes two kava powders. One is unflavored, and the other is a blend of turmeric and ginger. Kava may be brewed hot or cold, but it’s always strained. Traditionally, before the brew is consumed, one dips a finger in the liquid and flicks it over each shoulder while saying “Mahalo ke Akua” (Thanks be to God).

Bitter kava may be made more palatable if combined with chamomile. Mix one heaping tablespoon of kava with two heaping tablespoons of chamomile and steep in 1 1/2 cups of hot water for 10 minutes. Many find that mixing powdered kava with hot water makes the drink stronger.

In Vanuatu, a strong kava drink is normally followed by a hot meal. The meal traditionally follows some time after the drink so the psychoactives are absorbed into the bloodstream quicker.

Tip: Limit kava intake to 32 ounces per day. Kava is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. Don’t operate heavy machinery while enjoying kava, and don’t mix kava with alcohol.

Health benefits: Kava is used to ease anxiety, depression, menopausal symptoms and asthma, and to produce a restful sleep. Since consuming kava does not result in a hangover, it’s a natural replacement for alcohol. Liver damage has been reported when using kava supplements, but not by consuming kava in its traditional form as a brewed root infusion.

Waialeale Kava Source can be found at: Namahana Cafe, Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe, Healthy Hut, Vim N’ Vigor, Banana Joe’s, and Havaiki Tribal Arts. For more information, visit potentkava.com or call 346-3987.

WAIALEALE PARTY KAVA Grady makes this blend for islandwide kava bar catering, private parties, events, or a night with friends. You can buy a kava strainer as well as coconut cups from potentkava.com.

Serves six.

1 ounce kava
1 quart water

Place water into a large bowl and kava into a fine strainer bag. Submerge kava in water and lomi lomi (massage) for two to three minutes to extract the active ingredient called kavalactones. Serve in coconut cups.

Marta Lane is a free-lance food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com