COMMON NAMES: ava, awa, kava, kawa, kawa kawa, wati , yagona

For centuries kava kava has been the favorite social drug of natives throughout the South Pacific. Kava kava is actually a drink made from the root pulp and lower stems of a tall shrub, Piper methysticum, which has the odor of lilac and is a member of the pepper family native to Hawaii, New Guinnea, and the South Pacific Islands. It has been used over the years for a variety of purposes: as a ceremonial brew, medicine, and just something to make one feel good. While kava kava is powerful, strangely enough it is generally acknowledged by scientists to be harmless.

Before missionaries came to the South Pacific, kava kava enjoyed widespread popularity. The missionaries convinced the natives that the pleasure-giving drink should be forbidden, however, and for a while it was replaced, by and large, by alcohol, a far more dangerous drug. Nowadays, kava kava seems to be making a well-received comeback. In many Pacific areas it is actually being used to wean the fallen from their Western-inspired habit of alcoholism.

The ingredients that give kava kava its kick are kawain, dihydrokawain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, and dihydroyangonin.

In the islands, natives have several methods of preparing kava kava. One of the most common ways is to shave away the outer bark from the plant root until the pale-pink or yellow inner rhizome is all that remains. Two mouthfuls are then cut into small pieces, chewed thoroughly, and swallowed.

A mild version of kava kava can be enjoyed at teatime by boiling the bark in water. The tea serves as a kind of elixir and the result of sipping is a light "up."

For those who prefer a sedated feeling, kava kava may also do the trick. The roots must be chewed until finely then soaked in water for a while before drinking.

For a stronger brew, take about 3 tablespoons of fresh rhizome of 6 tablespoons of dried bark, boil for five minutes in a pint of water, and cover. Strain the mix, refrigerate it, and twenty-four to thirty-six hours later, sip slowly.

These days, fewer and fewer people bother with complex kava-kava recipes. More often, they simply take about '/3 ounce of dried kava root ground into a fine powder and mix it with any liquid they enjoy drinking.

Depending upon how much has been consumed and the bark is fresh or dried, a kava-kava trip should last 'from -two to six hours. Small doses will provide a up - a happy, light kind of feeling. Larger doses, still safe, will take one through a range of experiences. First feelings, which come on after about thirty minutes, are ones of pleasant stimulation, peace, euphoria, and talkativeness. In another half-hour a much higher, more sleepy and lethargic will be experienced, Yet' because the drug only affects spinal, rather than mental, activity, the user remains very alert at the same time. If a lot has been consumed, the imbiber ends up in a very pleasant, dream-filled sleep. When he awakes, he still enjoys a relaxed feeling with no signs of hangover (unless he has consumed alcohol somewhere along Generally, islanders limit themselves to using kava kava once or twice a week. This level of consumption is not only safe but appears to have some beneficial effects, including appetite stimulation for those skinnies who need it.

If kava kava is overdone for a period of months, some problems may arise. When used excessively, the drink can become habit-forming. In addition, the skin may develop rashes and ulcers and may even turn yellow. Loss of appetite and weight, diarrhea, and weakening of vision can also result. Should any of these problems be experienced, consumption of kava kava should be stopped completely. After the abuser has abstained for a week or two, however, all symptoms of overuse will disappear.

All in all, this is one bark whose bite doesn't seem too bad.