What does Kava Kava give to women and what did women give to Kava?
The Pacific tradition of Kava drinking is more than three thousand years old. Although many regional perceptions of Kava were shaped by myths of a very feminine (or even erotic) nature, access to Kava was generally the domain of men. Nowadays, however, we are discovering that the unique qualities of the piper methysticum are a perfect fit for women. Could it be that history is returning to its roots? Here is the feminine side of Kava Kava!
PART I. - What does Kava give to women?
Natural remedy for menstrual pain
Kava is not a painkiller. So why is it being referred to in the context of menstrual pain – painful cramps in the lower abdomen? This is because Kava naturally reduces muscle tensions and has topical anaesthetic properties. Kava naturally promotes the relaxation of smooth muscles in particular.
The calming and relaxing properties of Kava Kava can also turn out to be invaluable against the difficulties of premenstrual syndrome, such as increased excitability or states of a depressed mood. Kava suppresses the tendency to outbursts of aggression, calms and soothes. It helps to return to a natural biorhythm and a state of inner balance.
Kava Kava and pregnancy or breastfeeding
In this case, the contraindications are clear: drinking Kava during pregnancy and breastfeeding is not recommended. But later? It is no secret that the so-called “crisis” or “rebellion” of a two-, three- or four-year-old (etc…) can be extremely demanding: stressful, tiring, frustrating. Kava Kava, on the other hand, is a proven way to relax and increase patience!
Natural support for parents
The great value of Kava Kava is that it does not stupefy – unlike alcohol, which, unfortunately, can often be a simple escape from demanding everyday life. Kava facilitates tranquillity and balance, without taking away strength, healthy sleep or simply a good mood.
Which, of course, applies not only to mothers, but to parents in general!
Kava Kava and the menopause
Kava is a popular remedy for relieving menopausal symptoms – not only in Pacific traditions! Its effectiveness is also confirmed by scientific studies.
Changes associated with estrogen deficiency can manifest, among other things, as prolonged tension, irritability/aggressiveness, loss of motivation, mood swings, but also anxiety or depression.
Kava Kava is not only about soothing the nerves, inner calming and relaxing the body. Kava is also a support for anxiety. It is worth citing here a study on the support of hormone replacement therapy Assessment of the association of Kava-Kava extract and hormone replacement therapy in the treatment of postmenopause anxiety (Clinica di Ostetricia e Ginecologia, Università degli Studi, Siena).
Results: A significant reduction in the HAMA score was observed after 3 and 6 months’ treatment in all four groups of women studied. The groups treated with the therapeutic association (HRT + Kava, ERT + Kava) showed a greater reduction in the HAMA score compared to patients in the groups treated with hormones alone.
[ HAMA – Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale – more ]
Conclusions: The results of this study show that the association of HRT and Kava-Kava extract may represent an excellent therapeutic tool for the treatment of women in stabilized menopause, in particular those suffering from anxiety and depression, given that Kava-Kava therapy accelerates the resolution of psychological symptoms without diminishing the therapeutic action of estrogens on organic disease, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
As Cathleen Rapp, N.D. points out in her discussion of the study Kava–Kava administration reduces anxiety in perimenopausal women:
“Kava has demonstrated anxiolytic effects in several clinical trials with humans suffering from non-psychotic anxiety. In one study the effectiveness of kava in reducing anxiety was similar to that of benzodiazepines.1 However, kava does not activate benzodiazepine receptors, nor does it have a depressive effect on attention or the response to verbal and visual tasks. The present study is congruent with previous research and indicates that kava is effective in reducing anxiety in perimenopausal women.” [ source ]
Kava Kava and GABA
Kava’s profoundly relaxing and de-stressing effect is primarily related to Kava’s effect on the GABA neurotransmitter system, which reduces over-stimulation, calms the body by reducing excitatory impulses (calcium channels). Kava increases GABA binding and the action of gamma-aminobutyric acid. Find out more here.
This kind of neuronal quieting translates not only into daily functioning, but of course also into healthy sleep. Kava can help with falling asleep and enhance deep sleep (delta waves), so that the body can regenerate properly – regardless of its age or stage of development!
Kava’s active ingredients are recognised as MAO inhibitors: they are the ones that enable the body to maintain proper levels of dopamine and serotonin, among others. Hence their use in antidepressants, for example.
Another dimension of calming the body and returning to a proper biorhythm is proper nutrition. Above all, reducing the phenomenon of so-called stress overeating. By the way, a practical tip: Kava Kava works best on an empty stomach.
See in which situations Kava can help you
Interestingly, the link between Kava drinking and fertility and the menopausal phase also has cultural significance. Although perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that there is simply a strong relationship between cultural, traditional perceptions of Kava and femininity.
PART II. - What have women given to Kava?
Kava - femininity - anthropology
Kava Kava and the image of fertility
As R. Brunton points out, in traditional Pacific communities, two categories of women can be mentioned as having the right to drink Kava: those of higher birth (Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii) and those who have passed the menopausal phase.
On the other hand, in the Kava Kava preparation ceremony in many Pacific communities, such as the islands of Samoa, traditionally only boys and girls before sexual initiation (taupou) and girls before their first menstruation were allowed to participate.
Why such a concern to demarcate Kava and sexuality/fertility at all costs? As anthropologically described by V. Lebot, M. Merlin and L. Lindstrom (Kava: The Pacific Elixir), sex transforms life-giving Kava into poison, shifting it towards the darker side of the fertility cycle. Kava ‘poisoned’ by sexuality (coming into contact with sexuality) could not only lose its power (e.g. providing a strengthened bond with ancestors), but also prove dangerous. These fears had their strong ‘roots’ in myths of two kinds.
Women in Kava myths
As we mentioned, different myths and ideas about the origin of Kava were prevalent in different regions of the Pacific. On the island of Tanna (Vanuatu), for example, there was the following myth: two sisters were working by the water when suddenly one of them felt a pleasant touch between her legs. As it turned out, she was being touched by a Kava vine growing from between the stones. The sisters took the plant back to their garden to mature, and then shared their discovery with the others.
In another myth – from the island of Pentecost, also Vanuatu – Kava was also ‘offered’ by a woman. It is the story of an orphaned sibling. One day the sister was attacked by a foreign suitor who wanted to marry her. A fight ensued and the girl was fatally shot with an arrow. The distraught brother dug her grave and buried her. After a week, he noticed that an unfamiliar plant had grown on the grave. However, he did not pick it. A year passed and the brother, still in deep mourning, visited his sister’s grave again. To his surprise, he noticed that there was a rodent lying under the unfamiliar plant, which had probably nibbled on the plant and died. Seeing this as an opportunity to end his own life, full of pain and longing, his brother began to chew the roots of the plant himself. He did not die. On the contrary: he momentarily forgot his misery and pain.
An anthropological interpretation reads the above myth as follows: suitor wounds girl with arrow (sexual act, fertilisation), girl dies (passes on life), new life (child) grows from her grave. The plant can be poisonous or purifying. It marks the circle of life and death, burial and birth, fertility and mortal danger.
How do these two exemplary myths relate to women’s limited access to Kava?
Firstly, there is the strong belief that proximity, contact between a fertile woman and Kava could mean danger for a man – slipping down the circle of fertility all the way into the darkness of death. Secondly, it was assumed that the feminine origin of Kava (the notion that it grew from a woman’s womb) precluded women from benefiting from drinking Kava.
Kava: pacific mosaic of ideas
Of course, this is only part of the patchwork of pacific myths and perceptions about the origin of Kava. Kava has been identified with the penis, semen, but also with maternal milk. An interesting example is the traditional bowl for drinking Kava together in Fiji – the tanoa. The bowl is conical in shape and its supports, which we would reflexively call legs, are called breasts in Fiji. On the island of Tanna, the outer roots of the Kava, surrounding the most valuable part, are called the dress. On Vanuatu, on the other hand, the roots of the Kava are beaten and abraded with coral of a very phallic shape.
Nowadays, women all over the world use Kava not only for its unique properties, but also, simply, for pleasure.
And let’s hope it is as widespread as possible!