Photo by Leighann Renee
Have you ever been browsing Whole Foods or Target and picked up kava tea? Maybe you were hoping it would help you unwind at the end of the day and you were less than impressed by what it had to offer. Well, some good news and bad news here. The bad news is that kava tea is among the weakest forms of kava available on the market. The good news is, there are stronger forms of kava that will absolutely produce the relaxing effects you're looking for.
What Makes Kava Strong?
The reason kava induces relaxation and decreases stress is because of its kavalactone content. Kavalactones are naturally occurring active compounds in kava that bind to different brain receptors which induce muscle relaxation, decrease inhibitions and improve overall feelings of well-being. The amount of kavalactones dictate kava's strength, so the strongest kava has a higher kavalactone content and will therefore produce more of a desired effect than a weaker kava.
To give you an idea of how different forms of kava stack up in terms of strengths, I ranked them from strongest kava to weakest so you can get exactly the effects you're looking for.
1. Traditional Kava Brew
You'll find the strongest kava in various kava bars throughout the Pacific Islands. A year ago I visited the Nabouru Kava Bar in Vanautu, the country that many consider to be the birthplace of kava. I drank kava brew out of a traditional shell, and one shell can have upwards of 500mg kavalactones per 4oz serving. One shell was all I needed that night; after that I felt loose, at ease and comfortable chatting with friends, strangers and the like.
2. Kava Tincture or Kava Extracts
A kava tincture, also known as an extract, is a small vial of concentrated kava, and it’s the strongest kava available aside from traditional kava brew. It comes in various strengths, and only a couple drops from a very concentrated tincture is more than enough for an effective dosage. Some kava extracts contain additional herbs like lemon balm and passion flower which increase kava's relaxing effects.
3. Kava Paste
Kava paste is right up there with kava tincture. It is powdered kava mixed with a small amount of water to form a thick paste. Kava paste comes in various kavalactone concentrations, with the most common being 12%, 33% and 55%. Just a pea-sized serving of the 55% kava paste is enough to get an entire day's worth of kava at once. Not for the faint of heart!
4. Instant Kava Mix
Instant kava is like instant coffee, just add water and stir. You can very precisely control your kavalactone dosage as you know exactly how many kavalactones you're getting per scoop. I use instant kava because I can easily control the dosage and it's convenient.
5. Kava Capsules
Kava capsules are certainly a quick and easy way to take kava. However, kava capsules require 2-3 weeks to build up enough in the body to produce noticeable effects. An effective dose of capsules can also be 6-8 capsules, which many people find hard to swallow.
6. Kava Gum/Breath Strips
Some companies make kava-infused gum and breath strips. While kava is efficiently absorbed through our mouths, the gum and breath strips often don't contain enough kava to produce a noticeable effect.
7. Kava Tea
Ah, and we return to the lovely and promising kava tea that caused you to write off kava altogether. It turns out kava tea is the weakest form of kava on the market because any water above 140 degrees Fahrenheit destroys most of kava's kavalactone content. This means the tea you tried had little to zero kavalactone content, which explains why you didn't feel anything! Give kava extract a go next time, you won’t be disappointed.
Keep Your Kava Dosage in Mind
Kava is not about getting high. It is about enhancing feelings of relaxation at the end of the day or taking the edge off stress throughout the day. The daily recommended kavalactone limit is 300mg, so do your best not to exceed that. It's not about finding the strongest kava, it's about finding the kava dosage that works best for you. So try them all out, go with what feels right and you can always work your way up from there.