Is Kava Tea Good For You?

Pacific Islanders have been drinking kava for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Made by grinding the root of the kava kava plant, which is in the pepper family, and mixing it with water, you end up with a tea that’s used to relax the body and mind. However, it might be connected to liver problems. What do you need to know before trying it?

Kava leaf/Forest + Kim Starr

 Kava contains kavalactones, which affect your nervous system. The tongue becomes numb and the muscles relax. The more you drink, the more powerful the effect. It isn’t a pleasant experience, however, because kava is very bitter. Most people don’t need to drink more than a small bowl or two to get the feeling they’re after. It is available in pill form, but there are bars popping up everywhere that serve the tea as it’s traditionally-made. It’s even being seen as an alcohol alternative.

Kava is not without its problems. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, a handful of people get sick after drinking kava or taking a pill. Liver problems and skin rashes are the most common symptoms, leading several countries (including Canada) to restrict its sale. You can still drink kava and take supplements freely in the United States, but the FDA did issue an advisory warning consumers that it could cause “severe liver injury.” After over a decade of research, however, scientists aren’t sure why kava hurts the liver. They do now that if you use the plant’s stems and leaves as opposed to just the roots, it can be toxic. You also have to be sure that the kava’s kavalactones are extracted with water and not ethanol or acetone. It’s also possible that adverse health effects are caused by kava that’s been contaminated with mold. Bars that serve kava should always test their product and stick to the traditional preparation.