In Asheville on Eagle Street there’s a little place called Vanuatu that serves a relaxing, non-alcholic drink called kava. With the music playing softly in the background and the wood and bamboo décor it’s not hard to imagine yourself on an island somewhere.
Throughout the South Pacific, islanders have been relaxing in the evenings around the fire pit as they shared stories fueled by Kava.
Kava is a non-alcoholic drink that has been used by the islanders for over three thousand years. With almost as many varieties as there are island nations, Kava is slowly becoming known to the western world.
Called “Isa” in New Guinea and “Tuday” in Hawaii, the version slowly overtaking America is “Tudei” kava which comes from Vanuatu. Pronounced “two-day” because it’s effect are said to last two days since it is high in kavalactone dihydromethysticin, a fancy word that means relaxing.
In Vanuatu, shipping kava outside of the country is highly regulated. Only what they deem as “noble” variets are allowed to be shipped abroad. Included in the regulations for exportation is the reqirement that the kava be at least five years old and farmed organically.
The most popular “strains” or varieties are “Boronggouru” from Pentecost Island, “Melomelo” from Ambae Island and “Palarasul” from Espiritu Santo Island.
In spring 2002, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started to issue warnings to consumers about the potential risk of liver damage associated with kava.
In the March 2011 issue of the AHPA Report, Rolf Teschke, MD – and a world class expert on kava – says the few cases of toxicity related to ingestion of kava were “…a consequence of poor-quality raw kava material employed in the manufacture of a few kava extracts.”
“Toxicity was associated with ingestion of traditional aqueous kava extracts, acetonic and ethanolic kava drugs, and kava dietary supplements in kava-herb mixtures,” Teschke says. “These adverse reactions emerged unexpectedly in face of the apparent safe traditional use of kava for thousands of years.”
While it would be easy to slip into a long monologue about the intricate nature of kava and use too many words, it would be bone-headed to do so. With all the information available online for anyone who really cares what’s in it and how it works, there’s no need to repeat the information here.,
Just find a kava bar in your neighborhood, get a half-a-coconut shell and relax with some friends.
Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. When not traveling, Nelson volunteers his time and donates his services to area non-profit agencies and is available for portraits, promotional shoots, events and more. Nelson lives in Asheville, North Carolina when not chasing down stories and photo opportunities.