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The art of Kava

The kava plant today is grown, enjoyed and celebrated across much of the South Pacific. However, its very origins can be traced back to the islands of Northern Vanuatu. It was here where, according to leading scientists, approximately 3000 years ago ancient farmers discovered wild kava (piper wichmanii) and developed it into a cultivated root crop species (piper methysticum) known today as kava.

Unlike its wild ancestor, the domesticated kava is sterile (produces no flowers or seeds) and is propagated exclusively by stem cuttings. Over centuries and millenia farmers have been making conscious decisions about the types of plants they wanted to choose as the source of cuttings for the new generation of kava plants. In their choice farmers have been guided by the desire to preserve desirable characteristics and eliminate any potential negative features. As noted by Dr. Vincent Lebot:
[The farmers] must eliminate unsuitable mutations while choosing favorable variants. The variation among kava cultivars originated in somatic mutation. The selection of particular mutants by kava farmers must have been a conscious process, at least to the extent of preserving new characters as they appeared; otherwise, it would be difficult to explain the presence of the scores of kava variants found today and their spread beyond the areas of their origin. Kava growers have selected cultivars to improve such appreciated characteristics as yield, length of time to harvest, and, especially, chemical composition responsible for the physiological effects. No other psychoactive species in the Pacific has been subjected to such intense artificial selection. (source: Lebot, Vincent; Merlin, Mark; Lindstrom, Lamont. “Kava: The Pacific Elixir. The Definitive Guide to Its Ethnobotany, History, and Chemistry”).


Kava today

In result, kava today comprises many different cultivars representing a great variety of characters selected based on both their best fit for the local growing conditions and, more importantly, their effects. While overall it is clear that cultivars rich in kavain (and belonging to the so-called “noble” group of cultivars) have been overwhelmingly preferred by farmers across the Pacific, there exists an impressive diversity of drinkable, popular cultivars reflecting their unique respective characteristic flavours, aromas and psychocactive attributes. Some cultivars are known to be mentally uplifting or even euphoric, others are recognised as more sedating or mellowing. Some varieties are famous for their specific flavour or aroma, others are known for the duration of effects.

There exists an impressive diversity of drinkable, popular cultivars reflecting their respective unique characteristic flavours, aromas and psychocactive attributes.