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Kava facts for kids

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Starr 070515-7054 Piper methysticum.jpg
Piper methysticum leaves
Scientific classification
P. methysticum
Binomial name
Piper methysticum

Kava or kava kava is a crop of the Pacific Islands. The name kava(-kava) is from Tongan and Marquesan, meaning "bitter". Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii and Vanuatu, and Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia for its sedating effects.

The root of the plant is used to produce a drink with sedative, anesthetic, and euphoriant properties. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones. A Cochrane systematic review concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term anxiety.

Moderate consumption of kava has been deemed as presenting an "acceptably low level of health risk" by the World Health Organization. However, consumption of kava extracts produced with organic solvents or excessive amounts of poor quality kava products may be linked to an increased risk of adverse health outcomes (including potential liver toxicity).

History and names

A sign showing a "Kava licence area" at Yirrkala, in the Northern Territory of Australia

Kava is believed to have been domesticated in either New Guinea or Vanuatu by Papuans. It is believed to be a domesticated variety of Piper subbullatum which is native to New Guinea and the Philippines. It was spread by the Austronesian Lapita culture after contact eastward into the rest of Polynesia.

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