Kava Kava ~ Piper methysticum
The Hawaiians call this special plant, “`AWA”, and it was one of the original canoe plants brought in sailing canoes by the earliest Polynesian voyagers arriving in Hawai`i. `Awa (Piper methysticum, pronounced ah-vah with the "w" as a "v" sound), a member of the pepper family, grows wild now and is also cultivated throughout the Pacific Islands, where it is called Kava or Kava Kava. This plant grows exceptionally well at low elevations where there is constant moisture and partial to full sun. More than a dozen varieties of `awa were known, cultivated, and used medicinally in old Hawai`i.
The sparingly branched shrub is very hardy and grows up to 15 feet high. It has large, smooth, heart-shaped leaves and green or black jointed stems, with swellings at the joint. The flower is an inconspicuous narrow yellow-green spike. The root is thick, soft wooded when fresh, hardening as it dries. It needs to grow for 2 to 3 years minimum to achieve usable potency.
As a medicine, the Hawaiians use the roots - as well as the leaves, stems and bark - for the following: general debility, weary muscles, chills, colds, headaches, lung and other respiratory diseases such as asthma, displacement of the womb, diabetes, congestion of the urinary tract as well as for rheumatism.