Kava Kava is a plant native to the Pacific Islands. The name comes from the Tongan word for “bitter” due to the earthy, bitter taste the plant has. It has been used in Pacific Island cultures, such as those of Hawaii, Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga, for hundreds and even thousands of years. The plant, typically the roots and/or stems, is ground up and mixed with water or milk to produce a drink that can have sedative, euphoriant, and/or anesthetic properties depending on the particular variety of Kava Kava.

In recent years, the drink has become more and more popular in the mainland of the U.S. Kava bars are cropping up in cities and people all over are ordering from American Kava companies. High-quality Kava is still sourced from islands in the Pacific. 

Why Take Kava Kava?

Kava has a variety of different health benefits, though of course it should not be used to replace prescription medications.

  • Stress and anxiety relief: Because of its calming effect on people, Kava can reduce stress, help relieve anxiety, and even help with restlesness, insomnia, flight anxiety, etc.
  • Pain relief: Many people use Kava to help with menstrual cramps, pain caused by UTIs, muscular pain, headaches, and other types of pain and discomfort.
  • Jet lag: Kava is useful for helping to get yourself back on a normal sleep schedule when traveling across timezones.
  • Relieves bloating: Kava is a diuretic and so it can be used to help flush excess liquid out of your body. 
  • Toothpain and canker sores: Drinking Kava can help relieve mouth pain caused by canker sores
  • Less intense “high”: Since Kava has many of the same pain relief and anxiety relief benefits that marijuana has, but with more minor feelings of euphoria or being high, it’s a good alternative to marijuana use.

What to Look for While Shopping for Kava

Noble Kava vs. Non-noble

It is important to know the difference between noble and non-noble Kavas. The products discussed in this list are all noble Kavas and we do not recommend buying any Kava that is not of the traditional, noble variety.

  • Noble Kava is of higher quality and is usually the Kava that is used for consumption. Noble Kava produces better effects and has a much lower potential for negative side-effects. These varieties of Kava are specifically cultivated for regular consumption.
  • Non-noble Kava, which you’ll also see called “tudei” Kava, is the term used for wild Kava plants (different than the ones farmed and cultivated) and Kavas that are used sparingly for specific medicinal or ceremonial purposes. Tudei Kavas can have many negative side-effects, including nausea and lethargy, that will last for up to two days. There is also research that shows non-noble Kavas can be toxic to the liver. If you ever see this claim, just know that it is not referring to the Kava typically sold for consumption.

The Experience

People use Kava for a variety of reasons and it has many different benefits, as discussed.

  • Relaxation: Many powdered Kava root or instant Kava mix drinks are going to give you a calming effect. Look for Kavas described as balanced if you want relaxation without sedation or too much euphoria.
  • Anxiety-Relief and Stress-Relief: Balanced Kavas or slightly heavy Kavas are good for both anxiety and stress relief as they tend to have more calming qualities. 
  • Pain-Relief: Kava tinctures are a great way to take advantage of the pain relief qualities Kava has. Heavier Kava drinks tend to have great muscle relaxing qualities as well.
  • Sleep Aid: Very heavy Kavas are helpful when it comes to going to sleep. Kava won’t necessarily make you go to sleep or cause you to fall asleep on accident but it can help when you’re laying in bed trying to go to sleep.
  • To Get High: Kava is often used as a legal way to get high and feel euphoric. Kava tinctures and Kavalactone pastes are especially great if this is the kind of experience you want. Kava drinks described as heady also tend to have more euphoric qualities.
  • Aphrodisiac: Kava is sometimes said to have aphrodisiacal qualities. This is mostly due to the fact that Kava helps you calm down, feel less anxiety, and experience happier, more joyful feelings. It can cause the same lowering on inhibitions as alcohol and isn’t necessarily an aphrodisiac in the traditional sense.

Traditional vs. Micronized Kava

Kava is available in many different forms. We are specifically talking about varieties of Kava powder, of which there are two main types.

  • Kava root powder: This is the traditional way to consume Kava. The Kava root is ground into a powder, typically with a coarse or medium grind. This powder cannot be mixed directly with liquid. You have to first strain and knead the Kava. You do this by placing Kava into a strainer bag and putting this bag into warm water. You then have to squeeze and knead the bag for about 10-15 minutes in order to extract the Kava. If sediment gets into the drink, you can do a second straining to remove it.
  • Micronized or instant Kava powder: This is powder made from Kava root extract. It can be mixed directly into water, milk, juice, etc. It dissolves into liquid much like instant coffee or hot chocolate mixes. This is a good option if you’re on the go or if you just don’t like the work of having to strain Kava.

Certificate of Analysis

Reputable Kava sellers will typically include a copy of their COA with product descriptions of the Kava they sell. This means that the Kava has been tested in a lab. The test is done to determine Kavalactone content, identify the variety of Kava, and to determine if anything has been added to the Kava. It is relatively easy to add filler content to Kava or to sell products that look like Kava but do not actually contain any Kava root. Non-reputable sellers may also sell tudei Kavas and claim they are actually noble Kavas. Look for companies that readily supply their COAs in order to be sure you’re buying pure, noble Kava.

Age of the Kava Root

The Kava root gets more potent with age. When buying Kava, consider the age of the root if that information is readily available in the product description. A Kava plant that is only 2 years old is not going to be very potent and you may need to drink more of it in order to experience effects. Beginners may actually consider that to be a benefit, though, so that they can gradually increase the amount of Kava they drink when trying it out for the first time. You’ll also find Kava powder made from older Kava plants, 5, even 10 years old or more. With age and potency, the price also increases, so that is a key factor to consider as well.

The Best Kava Kavas of 2019 & Where to Buy

Nangol Noble is a blend of different noble Kavas from all over Vanuatu. It is a smooth, clean blend that offers a light euphoric effect. It tastes fresh and is a great blend for first-time Kava users to try out. It is described as a “social” Kava, one that is great for drinking with friends or out at a Kava bar. 

The Good

  • Available in different sizes: a 100g sample, ½ lb, 1lb, and 2lbs.
  • Offers a varied experience. It starts off more on the happy, euphoric end and then calms down into a more relaxing kind of happy. I never felt too euphoric or high when drinking it but it was a nice, calming, heady buzz.
  • I didn’t experience any of the negative effects that can be associated with Kava. Very little mouth numbing and no nausea.
  • The taste is rather smooth and not bitter at all.
  • Comes with clear, easy to understand instructions about how to mix and drink the Kava. Very helpful for first-time Kava drinkers!
  • Reasonable price, about midrange, compared to other Kavas. 

The Bad

  • Be careful with how much of this Kava you drink. How much you need varies from person to person but if you drink too much that initial euphoria can be too much since this is a more potent Kava. 
  • I didn’t experience this but others have experienced some teeth grinding after drinking this Kava.

This Kava from Cactus Kava is described as an “anytime” Kava. It has a blend of both heavy and heady effects, leading to a balanced experience. This variety comes from Vanuatu. Both the scent and taste are much milder than other Kava varieties. Because it is not too potent but also just potent enough, you can drink this Kava for a variety of purposes and in a variety of settings, be it with friends, out at a Kava bar, or home for a relaxing evening.

The Good

  • Available in two sizes: ½ lb and 1 lb bags.
  • Less expensive than some other Kava powders I’ve tried.
  • If you order medium grind when buying Kava from Cactus Kava, you get a free Kava strainer bag.
  • I had a relaxing, buzzed experience after drinking this Kava. I definitely felt that heavy, heady high and would describe the experience as “floaty”. 
  • Your mileage may vary but I didn’t need more than a single serving to start feeling relaxed and calm.

The Bad

  • This is described as an “anytime” Kava but I don’t know if I would drink this at a Kava bar or other public setting. I did experience some staggering, as you would when high or intoxicated. I suspect I drank too much and in the future would consume less in order to avoid this.
  • The taste isn’t quite as light as described. It isn’t as bitter as some other Kavas but it still had a little bit of a “burn” to it.

Pacific Elixir is a blend of different Kava plants from Vanuatu, Samoa, Hawaii, Fiji, and Tonga. It is blended to provide a relaxed, heady high that doesn’t make you too sleepy or sedated. They select varieties of Kava that have less bitter flavors and this blend typically tastes like white chocolate, spices, pepper, and nuts. It is high potency and a little goes a long way.

The Good

  • It is definitely potent and I didn’t have to drink much to experience a high but as it says in the product listing, it wasn’t a heavy high. I felt relaxed and calm after a short initial euphoric phase, in both body and mind.
  • It doesn’t take long after drinking to feel an effect.
  • I felt clear-headed, not too high or intoxicated.
  • The taste really is pretty great. It’s not completely free of bitterness but I did pick up on the chocolatey, nutty flavor.

The Bad

  • On the expensive end as far as Kava goes.
  • Because this is a blend, taste and effect can vary slightly from bag to bag. If you really like the flavor of the first bag you buy, it is important to keep in mind that the next one may not taste exactly the same.

This Kava comes from the Kadavu region in Fiji. It is a blend of five different cultivars, all grown on the same farm. It is very potent and bitter and when strained and blended, it produces a reddish brown colored drink. The “gourmet” moniker comes from the fact that the plants used to produce this Kava are over 3 ½ years old. This is described as being a “weekend” Kava, as it produces heavy, bodily effects.

The Good

  • There is an instant version of this same Kava if you don’t want to have to strain and knead your Kava before drinking.
  • Has a long duration. The effects lasted for about 3 ½ hours for me.
  • It is definitely potent. I experienced a body high and felt extremely relaxed. This Kava produces a heavy sedation effect and is great for muscle relaxing but it also has a slight euphoric effect. I didn’t feel too sleepy and had no problem staying awake but I was definitely glued to where I was sitting.
  • Good for pain relief and could be used as a sleep aid.

The Bad

  • It takes a long time before you feel any effects, 40-45 minutes, and they come on full force with no gradual increase in effect.
  • Very bitter! It’s not so bad it’s undrinkable but do keep that in mind if you aren’t a fan of bitter flavors. It tastes similar to black licorice (a plus for me, but a con for many people).
  • I didn’t fall asleep but I can see how other people might without meaning to!

This is a heavy Kava from small farms in Vanuatu. It is blended to provide stress and anxiety relief and can also be used as a sleep aid. It is the heaviest Kava offered by Kalm with Kava and is an evening or weekend drink. If you’re looking for relaxation, for both body and mind, this is a good Kava to choose.

The Good

  • Good price, not too expensive and generally in line with the price of other Kavas.
  • Very relaxing! I drank some one night when I was having trouble sleeping and once it kicked in, I was able to easily fall asleep. 
  • It isn’t too sedating, though. I drank it another night and was able to relax and just enjoy the calming effects for a while. 
  • I didn’t experience any negative side effects, like nausea.
  • This is Certified Noble Kava so you know it’s high quality.

The Bad

  • The grind of this Kava is too coarse for me, I had to grind it a bit more before I started straining and kneading it.
  • If you’re wanting to fall asleep fast, keep in mind that you’ll have to wait with this Kava. It has an initial euphoric effect and takes a little while to settle and eventually have a sedative effect.

The Best Micronized Kavas

Micronized kava is kava root that has been additionally processed so that it can be mixed with water or other liquid and drank immediately without any soaking, kneading, or straining.

This Kava is grown in Hawaii and is a strain you won’t be able to find anywhere else. It is one of the Kavas that has been used by native islanders for thousands of years so you know it is high quality. This is the micronized, instant version. It is ready to add to your choice of liquid and does not need to be strained or kneaded before drinking.

The Good

  • The flavor isn’t too bitter. It has more of an earthy or woody taste to it.
  • Has a quick onset. I started feeling effects shortly after drinking it.
  • Has a relaxing effect without being too heavy or sedating. I felt calm and relaxed for quite a while after drinking.
  • I would say this is great for anxiety/stress relief due to the calming effects.

The Bad

  • Slightly more expensive than some other Kavas but I would say it’s worth the price, considering it is a small-batch Kava grown locally in Hawaii.
  • Once this is sold out, its sold out! There was only a small amount harvested and blended so it won’t be around forever.

Kalm with Kava offers micronized versions of all of their main varieties of Kava, including the Vanuatu Borogu variety discussed on this list. Micronized Kavas are “instant” versions of Kava that are ready to mix. They are great when you’re on the go or if you just don’t like having to strain and knead your Kava before drinking. I tried the Tonga Pouni Ono micronized Kava.

The Good

  • This is a great “social” Kava. I had a pleasant experience that was both euphoric and energetic. This is definitely a good one for drinking with friends or at a party.
  • The euphoric effect isn’t over the top. I still felt happy and relaxed, just awake and alert instead of the sedated relaxed I have with other Kavas.
  • Long duration. I felt effects for about 3-3 ½ hours. 
  • Good price, especially considering how high quality this is.

The Bad

  • I experienced a little bit of nausea initially but it did wear off after about 20 minutes or so. It honestly may have just been the taste since it was so strong.
  • Since this Kava is so potent, the smell and taste are a little strong. This is lessened by it being micronized, however. 

This is another Kava from Bula Kava House. This Kava comes from Fiji and the plant is grown for 8-11 years before being harvested and made into Kava powder. This is a smooth yet potent Kava that produces a heady effect. As this is the micronized version of the 11 Year Waka Kava, you can quickly mix it with water or milk and be drinking it in no time.

The Good

  • I found this Kava to be extremely pleasant. It has a heady, euphoric effect that left me feeling calm and happy without being sleepy. 
  • Good social Kava. Great for hanging out with friends and just relaxing.
  • Doesn’t have as strong of a root-like smell as other Kavas.
  • Is good for anxiety and stress relief as well. I felt very clear-headed and worry-free.
  • Fast onset. I felt the effects start to kick in after less than ten minutes.

The Bad

  • More expensive than other micronized Kavas.
  • Definitely, do not drink on an empty stomach! I made that mistake and the effects were a little too strong for my liking.
  • I had a little bit of nausea at first with this one as well.

Kava Kava FAQ

Is Kava Kava safe for consumption? 

The short answer is yes, it is safe. Noble Kava roots post little to no significant risk to human health. People have been using Kava on a daily basis for thousands of years, for recreation, sacred ceremonies, even to help with different health problems. There have also been scientific studies done that show not only is Kava perfectly safe but that it actually has many health benefits.

Doesn’t Kava cause damage to the liver?

This rumor was started by some older reports and studies that seemed to suggest Kava had toxic effects on the liver. This is not true. The traditional, noble Kava root has not been found to actually cause any damage to the liver. Non-noble Kava may cause problems with the liver, however. You should be sure that you are buying pure, traditional, noble Kava from trustworthy vendors in order to avoid accidentally consuming non-noble Kava.

What is the Kava high like?

The exact effects of Kava will depend on the type, strength, and variety of the cultivar used to make the Kava powder you’re consuming. As a whole, Kava has a relaxing, calming effect on people. It can also cause light feelings of euphoria and happiness and make people feel more social, due to its abilities to decrease anxiety. It doesn’t generally cause a person to lose mental clarity or awareness like drugs such as marijuana can.

What are the benefits of Kava?

Kava has a variety of different benefits and again, the exact benefits will depend on the cultivar and also the method of preparation. Kava can act as a muscle relaxant and has been shown to have pain relieving qualities. It can also relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and assist with falling asleep. It is also thought of as a social drink since it increases feelings of happiness and contentment while lowering any anxiety that may cause people to not typically be social with other people.

What are the side effects of Kava?

A small amount of people are allergic to Kava and can experience minor allergic reactions that involve red, itchy skin and hives. This is very rare and symptoms typically clear up quickly after you stop consuming Kava. In extremely rare cases a stronger allergic reaction may occur.

If taken in large doses or when drinking particularly strong types of Kava, the relaxing qualities can be excessive. Muscles and limb may feel heavy and the drinker may begin stumbling around, as if they were intoxicated. They may also feel “cloudy” and not quite retain their mental clarity. Too much Kava can also make you go to sleep without meaning to.

Even when drinking noble Kava in moderate amounts, there are some additional but minor side effects. Some people experience nausea following consumption of Kava even with mixtures made from pure, noble Kava. This can be mitigated by straining the Kava very well or by drinking something like ginger or peppermint tea after drinking Kava. Kava is also a diuretic so it is important to drink a lot of water when consuming Kava, in order to avoid dehydration. 

“Kava dermopathy” also referred to as “kani kani” is temporary, non life-threatening skin condition some people develop after regular, prolonged consumption of large amounts of Kava. Skin becomes dry, itchy, and/or scaly. Better straining of the sediment out of Kava drinks and using Kava moderately helps to avoid the skin condition. If it does develop, it usually clears up within a couple of weeks after you stop consuming Kava. Note that this is different than allergic reactions to Kava and does not occur immediately after consuming Kava.

Is Kava addictive?

In short, no. Kava does not cause physical dependence. In fact, new users usually need to drink more of it in order to feel the effects while regular users need to consume smaller amounts so there is no risk of building up a tolerance. 

Is Kava legal?

The answer to this question depends on which country you live in. Because of the health problems caused by non-noble Kavas, Kava has been banned in some countries, even the noble varieties that do not pose health risks. Canada and many European countries are included in the list of places where Kava is banned. In the U.S.A., however, Kava is perfectly legal for personal use and is considered a dietary supplement. 

Conclusion

My favorite of all the Kavas on this list would have to be the Fresh Vanuatu Borongoru Kava. I truly appreciate the traditional Kava experience and this Kava root powder gave that to me. The price is reasonable, especially considering how high quality it is, and it’s definitely less expensive than some of the other Kavas on this list. I like the fact that I was able to use it to help fall asleep but it didn’t make me drowsy or sleepy when I just wanted to benefit from its relaxating qualities. It wasn’t sedating, didn’t cause any feelings of cloudiness or intoxication, and I experience no nausea or upset stomach when drinking it. I also like the fact that, due to its potency, a little goes a long way and I don’t need to use up a lot of powder in order to experience the benefits. The only real downside is that I found the grind of this Kava to be too coarse for my liking but your mileage may vary when it comes to that. It’s also an easy fix as you can grind it a second time or just spend a little extra time straining it. 

A special shout out also goes to the ‘Awa Papa Kea micronized Kava. This is definitely a great choice if you want an instant Kava powder. I like the fact that it comes from a traditional Kava farm in Hawaii. I’m sure anyone who likes to support small, organic farms and who wants to support the communities that have traditionally harvested Kava root for centuries will find this Kava worth the extra price. It is very high quality and has all the relaxing, calming benefits of Kava without the strong, extremely bitter taste associated with Kava Kava. This was also the only micronized Kava I tried that didn’t cause any nausea or upset stomach. I would suggest trying this, if only due to the fact that it may sell out soon and you’ll miss your chance. You can tell this company prides themselves on growing high quality Kava and that they love what they do, which is always an added bonus for me when purchasing any product.

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