What is kava?

Kava is a draught made from the water-filtered, skinned and prepared roots of the Kava plant, Piper methysticum. The domesticated, drinkable variety of the plant is naturally found only in the Pacific where it has been widely distributed and cultivated in traditional societies.

Kava bowl, Samoa E91440

Kava bowl, Samoa E91440
Photographer: Emma Furno © Australian Museum

Often mistakenly called by outsiders the Pacific alcohol, beer or brew – or even ‘Pacific mud’ – it contains neither alcohol nor mud, nor is it brewed. The plant has been used ritually and medicinally for many centuries in the Pacific – possibly from before the founding of any of the current European nations!

Many Oceanic cultures, from parts of Melanesia to eastern parts of French Polynesia – an area covering nearly a third of Earth’s surface – have, or had, kava drinking as a respected, highly ritualised and important part of their cultures.

Kirk Huffman, Research Associate

Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator
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