Monday, June 11, 2007


Fiji, courtesy South Pacific Holidays.

Our voyage now takes across the great Pacific Ocean, to the Islands of Polynesia, where we will investigate the language of herbology. The Polynesian triangle consists of hundreds of tropical islands that fall within a triangle formed by Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island. Needless to say, the Polynesian islands offer prime real estate for adventure seekers and beach lovers, and if you plan to visit, perhaps you should prepare for the cultural phenomenon of Kava.

Fijians prepare Kava, courtesy Fijian Kava.

Kava, or ‘Awa as it is known in Hawaii, refers to the root or rhizome of the plant Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family (Piperaceae) native to the South Pacific. For countless generations, peoples of the South Pacific have ground up the plant’s root into a fine powder, to make a cold infusion with water. The infusion is used as a ritual drink, a social beverage, and for its medicinal qualities.

Kava’s active ingredient is Kavalactone, which is said to act upon the Limbic system, the structures of the brain associated with emotions and associated memories. Further, Kava induces feelings of intense relaxation, reduces anxiety associated with depression, induces sleep in insomniacs, and has been used for medical purposes such as contraception and as a cure for Gonorrhea.

However, several studies in the United States, Germany, and Switzerland from 1999-2002 have shown that liver failure is infrequently associated with using dietary supplements that contain Kava extract. Other side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort and skin allergies, and Kava should not be consumed by pregnant women due to possible contraceptive activity.

All in all, Kava sounds like a fascinating plant. I’m just not sure I’d want to try it. Like most things, moderation is the key. When Mrs. Translator and I finally make it to Fiji, I’ll probably give Kava the old college try. But with the thought of liver failure looming overhead, I probably won’t make a habit out of it.

“Sure Kava chills you out, but your liver might fall out.” – Anonymous.

What about dietary supplements that contain Kava? Dietary supplements are truly the modern language of herbology. My mother drinks green stuff every day. Sorry, mom if you’re reading this. I’m not sure what’s in it, but it’s green - very green. I think she said it contains green tea extract, wheat grass, horse dung, elephant sweat – I dunno. The point is: she’s a supplement freak.

In the United States, dietary supplements are defined under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, as a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical (excluding tobacco), an amino acid, or something used to supplement the total dietary intake. Supplements are regulated by the FDA as foods, not drugs. Therefore, they may only take action if a particular substance is proven harmful.

I know that most indigenous peoples have been using herbals and botanicals for thousands of years. But I also know that most indigenous people don't live past forty and they have very few teeth in their mouths. In other words, I’m sure that most herbals have positive and negative attributes, many of which, I’m not willing to muck around with.

There are two things I still don’t quite get about the language of herbology:

1) I don’t know if I’m willing to try Kava yet. Do any of you have experience with Piper methysticum that would sway my opinion either way?

2) Why do so many people use dietary supplements without actually knowing what they do to their bodies?

Can you help me translate?


Splantrik said...

Kava's sweeet. No, actually it tastes quite bad. But it does make my tongue numb, and my brain numb. And my liver glum.

Translator said...

You bet. Ith hard to thalth with a numb tongue. Did your liver fall out?