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Kava Science

This traditional lifestyle drink has been used in the South Pacific islands by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, both as a ceremonial and social beverage, and many people report a great sense of relaxation and a feeling of contentment after just a few shells. They say they can begin to feel their lips tingle and their tongue starting to go numb within minutes (or even moments) and that’s their cue that they are about to be whisked away towards a better, less uptight, conscious experience. Shortly afterwards, the inner peace begins to manifest. This is perhaps followed by some easy conversation, a euphoric headiness, a deep easing into the couch, and a soothing sense of wellbeing as the intensity of a stressful workday gradually gets left behind.

So, what’s going on here, and why do I feel so great when I consume kava? 



Like many other herbs and plants, Piper methysticum (kava) has an abundance of phytochemicals, many of which have psychoactive properties. The drink is not brewed, fermented, or distilled like alcohol. Instead, it is derived from an abundance of these naturally occurring organic chemicals which are gently extracted from the lateral and basal roots of the plant. Although there are many pharmacologically active compounds in kava, those chiefly responsible for much of the pleasurable experience that people speak so fondly of are the kavalactones. Principle among them are the major kavalactones: desmethoxyangonin, dihydrokavain, yangonin, kavain, dihydromethysticin, and methysticin, also referred to as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively, under the widely adopted chemotype naming conventions for P. methysticum.

Since, generally speaking, it is the kavalactones which confer the widely desired effects from the beverage, many people assume that a higher kavalactone content automatically means better quality kava. To some extent that isn’t an entirely incorrect assumption – you aren’t going to experience any kavalactone inspired feelings without kavalactones getting to your brain, and the more abundant a molecule is in your kava, the higher the chance that more of them will engage with the molecular machinery of your body, leading to the physiological response and subjective experience which many people enjoy so thoroughly. So yes, if you have an abundance of kavalactones in your shell, it’s likely you won’t need as many cups to achieve the same feeling that a kava of lower lactone concentration might require, but the quantity of kavalactones isn’t the only story when it comes to how many shells you’d want to drink to get just perfectly into your kava groove…


How do kavalactones work?

Kavalactone Bioavailability

You can’t experience any of the really groovy effects of kava for yourself until some of the kavalactones make their way through your body from your mouth to their site of action, where they can instigate their effect. There’s a long way to go (on a molecular scale) to get through the digestive system and into the brain; Much of what is consumed orally will never get to the brain, simply because not every molecule will survive the journey intact, but long before things like first-pass metabolism, enterohepatic recirculation, or renal excretion might take their share of active compounds out of your circulation, they have to get into your blood in the first place. 

Depending on how your kava has been processed, the kavalactones may be extracted into your tanoa from some kava powders more readily than from others. Further, your ability to absorb the kavalactones will depend, at least in part, on what else is (or isn’t) in the mixture. Root and Pestle produce the purest kava powders available – we add no preservatives, emulsifiers, colours, artificial flavours, or anything else that might interfere with the natural enjoyment of the wonders that this plant can impart. We do, however, know exactly which parts of the plant to get rid of, and we use the latest in technical sophistication to help us get it flawlessly right, and in the most advanced production facilities (as operated by Root and Pestle), there’s a lot more to it than just excluding the dirt, stalks, and leaves.

Kavalactones are sticky, and generally resistant to letting go of their fibrous restraints, meaning that even if you come across a kava powder claiming to have an unusually high kavalactone content, there’s a good chance that a better-prepared powder of lower overall kavalactone content might actually “hit” harder, smoother, and better. Further, kava that has been processed and prepared correctly isn’t likely to bother your stomach, meaning that you’ll likely be comfortable and able to enjoy all stages of the experience. At Root and Pestle we use nothing but the very finest specimens available and when you combine the best processing techniques in existence with superlative starting material, the end result is a superior product that is easy to drink and feels great. Our huge investment in research and development has contributed to our ability to produce what we believe to genuinely be the highest quality kava powder available. We do this not only through generations of experience and by employing the best people available for the many unique positions they fill, but also by staying at the cutting edge of scientific research, assisted by our own well-funded and extensively equipped on-site analytical and research laboratory.  

Throughout our processing line we are constantly evaluating every aspect to make sure our consumers will never get a product that is less than optimal. Every batch of kava we sell must pass an extensive analytical testing regime to confirm not just nobility or subjective attributes such as aroma, but also undergoes in-depth microscopic analysis, colourimetry and spectrophotometry of acetonic extracts, a suite of intensive microbial assays, precision chemotype determination using the latest Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography (UHPLC) technologies, quantitative kavalactone evaluation assisted by an advanced Accelerated Solvent Extraction (ASE) system – Our biggest afficionados also regularly gather to taste test and subjectively assess our various traditional and instant single cultivar finished products. If there is any doubt at any stage in the process, that batch will not make the cut for Root and Pestle.

Ignoble vs noble kava

Noble kava has been extensively researched and has been proven safe for human consumption time and again. There have been a multitude of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles published about the potential benefits of kava and its main psychoactive constituents, the 6 major kavalactones (Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post about this!). Noble kava is easy drinking, mild on the digestive system, and agreeable with almost everyone. Its effects are widely reported as being uplifting, pleasant, smooth, mellow, and satisfying, and the overall subjective experience is entirely enjoyable for the vast majority. 

Noble kava powders use only the lateral and basal stems or rhizomes, and never include any part of the rest of the plant, such as stems, nodes or leaves. All noble kavas are high in kavain and low in flavokavains and all of them have a chemotype beginning with 42 or 24. Kavain is always more abundant than dihydromethysticin in noble kavas (the K to DHM (or 4:5) ratio is high). (For more information about chemotyping, please check out our blog on the subject here).

The term, “Ignoble”, can be applied to any of a wide variety of kavas which have not had their safety for human consumption proven, including so-called wichmanii, tudei (two day), medicinal, or wild kavas. Normal amounts of noble kavas, which are refreshing,  can be used regularly by almost anyone without undue risk of serious adverse effects. Most ignoble kavas have a 5 as one of the first 2 numbers in the chemotype, and the K to DHM ratio tends to be around 1 or lower.

The Vanuatu Kava Act restricts the export of kava for consumption to noble varieties only, and although all kava exported from Vanuatu has to meet strict biosecurity and food-safety requirements, the finished kava powder product can vary dramatically in quality depending on exactly which plants are used and on how they are processed. We have an upcoming blog entry about this, but you can be confident that Root & Pestle not only make high-quality kava that goes down easily and works great, but we also ensure that every batch of our kava powder consistently exceeds every requirement for safety too.

Root & Pestle use only 100% noble kava in all of our kava powders, both traditional, and instant. R&P are noble kava specialists; We only buy noble kava, and we only sell noble kava powders and we are extremely comprehensive with their checks and exclusive in our selection of fresh green kava approved for processing; You will get nothing but the highest quality Vanuatu noble kava powder, regardless of which finished product you purchase from R&P.

Root & Pestle only use mature, green Vanuatu kava plants rich in kavalactones. Their unique production process locks in the flavour and the freshness without sacrificing the kavalactone content.

Ignoble vs noble kava

Vanuatu drinking kava comes in two types, ignoble kava (or Tudei kava) and noble kava. Ignoble or Tudei kava can make you feel nauseous and dizzy and cause a nasty “kava hangover”, 2 days of lethargy, sleepiness and mental fog. On the other hand, noble strains of Vanuatu kava elevate your mood and make you feel happy, their kavalactones are metabolised quickly and there are no long lasting effects. Root & Pestle only use 100% noble kava in their instant kava and kava powder. Each batch of kava is lab tested and approved and its origin certified.