Betsy Miller, MS, CNS, LDN
When I start a new piece of writing about a plant, I always want to start with “<insert plant> is one of my favorite plants…” Seriously though, kava is truly one of my favorite plants, and I have been exploring my relationship with its medicine more deeply over the past few years. Kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant that has a rich history of use in ceremonies and traditions of the island cultures of the Pacific. It prepared as a traditional beverage to bridge conflict and bring people together (as I’m writing this I can’t help but feel this plant is more important than ever now…). This big, beautiful root would be repeatedly chewed and spat into water, mixing it to create a milky-colored beverage with mouth-numbing, euphoria-inducing properties. There’s really no other plant that I know of that can do what kava does- the ability to induce a magical, otherworldly experience, such a relaxed, at peace state, is so uniquely kava. Herbalist & author Dale Pendell writes of kava “A doctor of our path could base her whole practice on kava, swimming with energies of the heart, adjusting, finding words, seeking the common ground, sharing and bringing together.”
One of the primary ways that I have been exploring the use of kava is in helping with anxiety management. Kava works a bit differently than our other nervines- it’s not necessarily fortifying the way oats or skullcap are, nor does it sequester you away from the world and your experience the way alcohol or recreational drugs can. More so, kava induces an immediate sense of mental peace and physical relaxation so that we can actually see the world around us more clearly. Whenever I take kava, I unconsciously take a deep breath, and think, “ok.” Herbalists Jim McDonald teaches about a concept called ‘interfering tension,’ a blockage to the flow of energy, fluids, etc. throughout the body. Anxiety can be seen as a form of interfering tension, and kava eases and releases that tightness of being so that we can enjoy life more fully. Many of us also use kava as an aphrodisiac (see my kavacao syrup, wink wink…); I totally agree with this use, but attribute it less to the concept of the herb itself as an aphrodisiac and more to the fact that it’s removing the barrier of stress to the enjoyment of our bodies and sexuality.
I learned about using kava topically from herbalist Rebecca Altman. Making an infused oil of kava to use during massage or during bathing helps to melt away physical tension in our musculature. After my car accident two years ago, I routinely experience alternating spasm and tightness in my low back and neck; rubbing kava-infused oil (I do a blend of jojoba and castor) into those places, followed by a heating pack, both increases mobility and helps unwind the knots and cricks deeply embedded in my body. I always take kava with me on either long road or air trips as well to massage into my back and legs after sitting all day- a bit of ginger added to the blend helps to restore normal circulation.
As I said, kava is absolutely one of my favorite plants…
Did you enjoy learning from Betsy? Be sure to visit The Dancing Herbalist’s website to take a free class with Betsy and Jillian called Herbal Medicine for the New Enthusiast and check out the other wonderful things The Dancing Herbalist has to offer while you are there.
Be sure to check out Betsy’s kava infused oil as well as The Dancing Herbalist’s Nerve Cream, containing kava as well!