Anthropological evidence suggests that Kava has been cultivated and consumed by humans for well over 3000 years . It is still used today by a wide range of Pacific societies for spiritual, medicinal, and recreational purposes. Kava is deeply integrated into the culture of these societies and and its use is surrounded with ritual when Kava is used for any purpose. The giving and receiving of the root is often involved in life passages such as weddings and funerals. As it is with many other psychoactive plants, the consumption of Kava is associated with the spirit world and is used to contact ancestors and for divination. The feelings of camaraderie that Kava drinking evokes have made it a symbol for peace and friendship in many island nations of the Pacific.
Kava, piper methysticum, is a hardy perennial belonging to the pepper family, piperaceae. Cultivated throughout the South Pacific and as far north to Hawaii, it thrives in tropical to sub-tropical climates. The plant, which is a stocky, non-climbing shrub is quite ornate having smooth thick stalks with heart shaped leaves. Kava has been cultivated for such a long time by humans it no longer produces viable seed and must be propagated vegetatively by cuttings. Its active principals, Kavalactones, are concentrated in its roots.
The principal chemical constituents responsible for Kava's psychoactive effects are lipid like (that means like oil) compounds called Kavalactones.. These lactones are not water soluble and the traditional preparation of Kava produces an emulsion where small dropletts of these lipid like compounds are suspended in water. This makes for fast and effective absorption of the kava. The lactones are, however, soluble in alcohol and some vegetable oils.