What About Awa (kava kava)?
Growing Kava kava (Piper methysticum), known in Hawai'i as awa, has blossomed into an economically significant industry on the Big Island. The world demand for awa root is greater than the available supply and prices are good. I've been told that a mature 2-acre field of awa can bring in over $60,000 a year. A very good return for a legal, mood-altering herb that grows easily with little or no care and spectacularly when nursed and coddled. There are also at least three awa bars on the Big Island where a person can relax with a cup of awa tea --The Landing in Hawi, Kanaka Kava in Kailua-Kona, and a stand at the Sunday Pahoa Farmer's Market.
Awa tea is made from the root of Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family. It is cultivated throughout the South Pacific and it thrives in tropical to sub-tropical climates. Anthropological evidence suggests that awa has been cultivated and consumed by humans for more than 3000 years. Awa was first written about during Captain Cook’s voyage to the Pacific in 1768-1771 when Europeans first encountered the plant and its consumption in sacred ceremonies. According to Cook’s account, natives chewed or pounded the root and mixed it with water to produce a brownish, often bitter brew that they then consumed for its psychoactive properties. It is still used today for a wide range of spiritual, medicinal, and recreational purposes. The feelings of brotherhood and friendship that awa drinking evokes has made it a symbol for peace and friendship in a number of island nations of the Pacific.
Over the years, many researchers have consumed awa in an attempt to describe its effects in more scientific terms. One of the first such descriptions of awa was offered by a pharmacologist named Louis Lewin in 1927:
"When the mixture is not too strong, the subject attains a state of happy unconcern, well-being and contentment, free of physical or psychological excitement. At the beginning conversation comes in a gentle, easy flow and hearing and sight are honed, becoming able to perceive subtle shades of sound and vision. Kava soothes temperaments. The drinker never becomes angry, unpleasant, quarrelsome or noisy, as happens with alcohol. Both natives and whites consider kava as a means of easing moral discomfort. The drinker remains master of his conscious and his reason. When consumption is excessive, however, the limbs become tired, the muscles seem no longer to respond to the orders of control of the mind, walking becomes slow and unsteady and the drinker looks partially inebriated. He feels the need to lie down. He is overcome by somnolence and finally drifts off to sleep."