Kava Kava (Piper Methysticum), Traditional Preparation & Use

Kava Kava is a plant grown in the Pacific Island region that has been used for many years for medicinal purposes, as a drink, and in ceremonies and rituals.

Traditional Preparation & Use

Kava Kava has been used for thousands of years in many cultures in the Pacific Ocean area, such as; Melanesia, Polynesia, Vanuatu, and in some parts of Australia and Micronesia. The traditional way to prepare Kava Kava is to chew, grind, or pound the roots.

Traditional grinding is done by hand, using a cone-shaped piece of dead coral as a pestle, and the hand as a mortar. Ground root and bark are mixed with a little water, but not too much as the root releases’ moisture during the grinding process. To pound Kava Kava traditionally, you use a small log and a large stone, and then the end product is mixed with cold water and consumed within a short time of pounding.

The moisture that is extracted using both methods is a mixture of kavalactone droplets and starch. It is a grey, tan or opaque green color, has a slightly pungent taste, and distinctive aroma. The aroma will differ depending on whether the mixture is prepared with fresh or dry Kava.

Kava Kava produced the traditional way is a lot more pungent than processed Kava, and chewing it will produce the strongest effect; also fresh Kava is stronger than dried Kava, and the strength can also depend on the species of plant and how it was cultivated. Using hot water rather than warm or cold will also make the Kava Kava drink stronger.


In Vanauta, Kava Kava is usually made into a strong drink with no added flavoring, which is often taken an hour or two before a hot meal or tea. This is so that the psycho-actives in the drink are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

Papua New Guinea

Locals in Madang province in Papua New Guinea also make a drink out of Kava Kava and call it waild koniak, which, in English means wild cognac.


Fijians usually make a drink which they call grog by pounding Kava Kava root that has been dried in the sun into a fine powder, and then straining it, and mixing it with cold water. This drink is traditionally drunk from the shorn half shell of a coconut,  which is called a bilo, and is used socially, often by groups of young men.

There is even a Kava ceremony, known as a formal yaqona in Fiji that often accompanies important social, religious, or political functions. This ceremony usually involves a ritual presentation of bundled Kava roots as a gift, before consumption of the grog.

Effects of grog drinking grog produces effects similar to the effects produced by alcohol. Drinking a few bilo’s of grog will produce a numbing, relaxing effect and often numbs the tongue. Grog drinking is often accompanied, or followed by a sweet or spicy snack.