A Guide to the Origins of Kava Strains

While all kava comes from the same plant, where the plant is actually grown plays a large part in the effects that it has. These are known as kava strains sometimes also called cultivars. Each strain affects the body and mind differently. Some give you a lighter, clear, euphoric feeling, while others have a heavier, sedating effect. 

Kava is unlike many plants when it comes to reproducing as it doesn’t produce flowers or seeds. You can only propagate or grow other kava plants from its roots. To be sure the effects are what the grower wants, they will harvest the root and drink it fresh. If they are happy with the effects, they’ll replant that plant’s root. If not, they’ll throw it away. This process allows kava farmers to highlight specific growth patterns to get the right kavalactones, the active ingredient in kava, to get the right effects.

How are kava strains organized

Kava strains are best organized by their region. Being an area of islands, the south pacific is a unique place to grow plants as each country has a different soil content and landscape. This is one of the aspects of kava’s unique effects and flavors.

Kava strains can be categorized into two three groups; heady, heavy, and balanced. Heady kavas give you the calm, clear and euphoric feeling that you feel in your mind. Heavy kavas give you a feeling of sedation, weighted limbs and relaxed muscles in your body. Balanced kavas are right in the middle, they have both heady and heavy effects. 

Kava strains by country

Here is a rundown of the most common countries that produce kava and the qualities their kava is known for.

Fijian Kava Strains

This kava strain is known for its heady effects and smooth, less-bitter taste. Plants grown here are generally higher in methysticin which could make it toxic. It is probably the most common type of kava on the market. It is unique in that it usually offers three varieties based on the part of the root that is being used; Waka, Lawena and Kasa.

Waka comes from the lateral roots, which are stronger and have more kavalactones. Lawena comes from the basal part of the root and stem (the part of the root closest to the stem). This part has a milder flavor and milder effect. Kasa is the cheapest and roughest part of the kava plant as it comes from the stem. It’s not a desirable part of the plant as it has a very bitter taste and weak effects. Usually it’s used as a “cut” to bulk up kava in poor quality products. Most kava from Fiji comes in a 70% Waka, 30% Lawena blend.

Vanuatuan Kava Strains 

Known to be where kava was first discovered, kava culture here is probably the strongest of all the islands. They have some of the most genetically diverse strains due to how long it’s been grown there (there are over 200 known varieties that come from Vanuatu!) These means they have strains that are heady, heavy and balanced. Along with kava powder, kava bars, called Nalamals are also very popular.

Unlike Fiji, the widespread use of kava in Vanuatu culture makes it possible to create single strain kavas as opposed to blends. This allows the user to find a product that targets a specific effect.

Hawaiian Kava Strains

Kava here is known for being well balanced and having a spicy flavor. Its effects aren’t as strong as other kavas, like Fijian but has a light and heady feeling. The kava culture in Hawaiian native culture is strong, but sadly much of that has been lost. However, their kava strains have been gaining popularity in the North American Market. Kava grows well here due to the warm sunny climate.

Often strains from Fiji, Tonga, or Samoa are grown and sold from Hawaii.

Tongan Kava Strains 

Kava is a huge part of Tongan history and culture. Known for its heady kavas, they may have high levels of DHK, kavain, which are neuroprotective and methysticin which could increase their toxicity. The genetics of many Tongan strains have been used throughout the kava market. Tongan kava comes in two varieties: Huli (which means black) and Hina (which means white). 

Huli strains are stronger, harder hitting and bitter. In contrast, Hina is lighter and euphoric. These are the most sought after strains in Tonga and are the most expensive in the country due to their effects. Because of the drastic difference in their effects, this kava is usually sold in blends, not individually. 

Genetics from Tonga kava can also be found in Fijian and Hawaiian kava strains.

Samoan Kava Strains 

Kava culture in Samoa has existed for centuries and is very popular throughout the country. In fact, it’s so popular that very little kava is exported as the locals drink most of it. There are several types of kava grown and it’s known for its light, clam, heady effects and smooth, cashew-like flavor.

There are three main strains in Samoa that are sold in the form of blends rather than as individual strains. The kava isn’t as strong allowing for longer kava drinking sessions, which is what Samoan kava culture is known for. 

Micronesian Kava Strains

Kava grown here is known for being strong. Its use is very popular and due to its unique geography, of being made of multiple small islands, there are a variety of strains grown here. Despite the different locations, there is not much variety between strains. Most Micronesian kava comes from the island of Pohnpei, which is the biggest of the Micronesian islands. This kava is known to have heavy effects and may have unwanted side effects the day after drinking it.

Papua New Guinean Kava Strains

Historically, kava culture isn’t as strong here as it is on the other islands. Three varieties are grown, but there is not much genetic difference between them. The kava here is known to be very heavy or of the Tudei variety. This is known as wild kava and can cause bad side effects like nausea, headache and diarrhea. It also can last up to two days, which in most cases isn’t ideal. Therefore, it’s not recommended for recreational users.

French Polynesian Kava Strains 

Not much is known about strains from here as they have poorly documented or lost over time. Drinking kava here is based on clan and class. It is known for being a formalized procedure with the goal of creating peace and stimulating discussion as well as supporting rank within the native culture. Unlike other islands, the attitude towards kava shifted, and was seen as a pagan symbol by the French government and was suppressed. As the islands have gotten more autonomy, kava culture is starting to emerge to get back their traditional roots.

So what’s the big deal?

While knowing this might seem a bit over the top, it’s important to be familiar with the strains of kava to be sure you get the effect you’re looking for. If you took a sedating heavy kava when you were looking to go out and socialize with your friends, the impact would definitely negatively impact your experience. 

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