Kava Root: An Ancient Way to Wind Down

By Aja Webber – October 1, 2021

With all the stressors that come with living in this busy world, it can be hard to find time just to relax. Whether it be a glass of wine, a CBD product or a sweaty workout, almost everyone has some way of dulling the anxiety from the day. There is, however, a lesser-known extract that some Austinites swear by: the kava root.

Kava is a shrub that grows in the South Pacific, Hawaii, Micronesia, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Samoas and Tonga. Although the slow-growing plant takes about four to seven years to mature, its size and capabilities are intriguing once it is fully grown. The root grows to be just as big as the shrub itself, and that is where the relaxation extract comes from.

The root from the kava plant is harvested, laid out in the sun to dry and then typically made into a tea. This tea has been known to have a range of benefits from reducing anxiety, helping with insomnia and some claiming an aid in seizure disorders.

Tracy Pingel is the owner of SquareRüt Kava Bar in Austin, Texas. At the beginning of Pingel’s journey, her bar was serving kava out of buckets, but now the process runs much more smoothly.

After the kava root is dried out, it is crushed into a fine powder and sent over to Pingel’s bar where she then brews it into a variety of teas.

“Once it comes to us, we actually squeeze our kava daily. It’s a 30- to 40-minute process for each batch,” Pingel says. “We developed a mechanical press to make it easier and more consistent.” 

Although there is not much definitive science behind the benefits of kava root, it has been known to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, drug withdrawal and muscle pain due to its numbing properties.

“It is a really good muscle relaxer. We get a lot of athletes who come over after a hard workout,” Pingel says. “We have different kavas; some relax more of the mind, some more the body — we even have one that does both.” 

Although kava is great for reducing anxiety and depression, Pingel notes that it’s important to talk to your doctor when introducing kava into your daily routine. Never start taking kava in place of an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.

Pingel explains that many people suffering from alcoholism can benefit from kava root, as it gives a similar numbing and relaxation feeling. Kava also has a reverse-tolerance effect, which means the more you drink it, the less you’ll need over time to reach the desired effect. 

“The recommended dose is 12 ounces, but in the beginning, a person may need more than that. Really pay attention to what your body is telling you,” says Pingel. “It can have the reverse effect sometimes. If you feel like your anxiety is worsening, don’t drink too much.” 

One of the possible negative side effects of kava is liver damage. Pingel explains that many of the studies that suggest kava being the cause of liver damage were done in the early 2000s, but current research shows that it may not be the direct cause. Either way, more research is needed before many positive and negative claims regarding the root can be scientifically backed. Pingel stresses the importance of moderation and listening to your own body. If you already have a weakened liver, consult your doctor before usage.

Despite the possible side effects, kava root may be just what you need to get by unscathed from the pressure and stressors of everyday life. After all, it has been used for many decades in places around the world.

“Kava has been consumed in the islands for over 3,000 years,” says Pingel. “They live longer than us and they’re so happy! It takes us back to the simple life.” 


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