The Relaxing Power of Kava

The vitamin and supplement market is full of remedies that claim to help with anxiety and stress. Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham visited the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx to share a potent and natural remedy, which relieves stress and enhances overall well-being.

The kava plant isn’t common to most people’s gardens, but Michael Balick, vice president for botanical science and philecology curator of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, told that people in the South Pacific have been using it for thousands of years as an anti-anxiety tonic.

“The roots are pounded, mixed with hibiscus, and made into a sort of slimy beverage that immediately reduces your anxiety, makes you want to talk to everybody in the room. It's an anxiolytic, similar to Valium, and so you lose your inhibitions; everybody's your friend, you're chatting away, and they use it to resolve conflict,” Balick said.

Kilham, who calls the plant one of his favorites, has also experienced the effects of kava.
“It's really an agent of kinship and community. You know people get together in the afternoon, they drink kava, they talk. It really seems to be an agent of community cohesion every bit as much as it's a medicinal plant,” Kilham said.

Balick explained how kava helps hold culture together in the South Pacific. While families in the U.S. may spend time with their children and spouses around the television in the evenings, on the island of Vonuatu, families sit around a stone, pound kava and drink it. It is a time for storytelling and to resolve problems.

Kilham said the effects of kava are immediate, and Balick warned that the plant should be used with caution.

“You wouldn't want to drive a car under the influence of kava, because everything would just seem funny and happy,” Balick said.