The Kava Experience: From Ancient Ceremonies to Modern-Day Social Treatment



KRT CALIFORNIA STORY SLUGGED: CA-NEWDRUGS KRT PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM VAN DYKE/SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (August 7) The Kava root contains a depressant used in drinks in Tongan and Samoan rituals. (SJ) NC KD 2001 (Horiz) (lde)

Lora Neshovska, Features Editor

Meet a different, holistic way to relax – kava.


Kava-kava is a plant deriving from the pepper family, which grows across the Pacific Islands. Centuries ago, Tongan islanders discovered that the true power of the plant is underneath it. The root of the kava plant, when ground and mixed with water, possesses mildly numbing and sedative properties. Since then, this extract has been used in Hawaii, Tonga and the Samoas in religious and cultural ceremonies.


Today, kava is enjoyed throughout the Western part of the world, either in a powder-form dietary supplement, or as the traditional Islander elixir. What gives the drink its analgesic properties are the active ingredients in the roots of the kava, called kavalactones. These chemicals are known to relieve pain, relax the muscles and promote restful sleep.


The effects of kava are experienced after a couple shots, along with a slight numbness of the mouth. However, the mind stays clear, which is what distinguishes kava from most anesthetic substances.


In San Diego, there are currently two kava “bars”. You won’t find any alcohol here, though, just shots of the cloudy, brown mixture. Depending on your social scene, you can choose where to try kava for yourself.


Rooted Kava Bar is nestled right between North Park and Hillcrest. Recently under new ownership, Rooted has begun expanding their drink menu and adding new, weekly flavors of kava. The menu also features healthy meal options, like acai bowls and fresh veggie salads. Right next door to Rooted is a yoga studio, which is a perfect complement to the relaxed vibe of the place on weekdays. After the sun sets, however, Rooted livens up and brings together people from the surrounding neighborhoods. Every Thursday, there is an open-mic night, which could be anything from spoken word to a hula hoop performance. There is a wooden patio outside, which is spacious and provides a space to enjoy kava outdoors.


Mystic Water Kava Bar is a small gem on North Park’s Ray Street. Contrary to its size, the place packs lots of people on its busy nights. Mystic Water is the latest addition to a kava bar chain that started in Florida and is now prospering in California. Here, the kava is served in halved coconut shells and comes in its original, earthy flavor. This venue offers yoga classes in the morning and kava and conversation in the evening. On Wednesday nights, ladies get buy-one-get-one kava shots while local performers showcase their music. Every second Saturday of the month, Mystic Water is part of Ray at Night, an art walk and live music event. This event brings an array of people, often tourists, to Mystic Water. Luckily, the bar is open till 1 a.m., so you can enjoy the conversations with newly found friends till later in the night.


Regardless of where you decide to enjoy your kava-kava concoction, it will be a rewarding experience. Kava is a beverage that brings people together and combines social wellness with personal health. In turn, kava bars are a great place to mingle and develop compelling friendships with like-minded people. “It’s the perfect place to go relax, and meet people while still holding onto your inhibitions” says Cara Potiker, a strong supporter of kava and its medicinal uses. Hopefully, you try kava for yourself and can experience its soothing properties. Keep in mind that kava is meant to be enjoyed on its own and shouldn’t be combined with any other mind-altering substance.