Kava (also known as kava-kava) is a shrub that grows in the South Pacific. It's a member of the pepper family. For thousands of years, Pacific islanders have prepared a beverage of crushed kava root and used it for traditional ceremonies and social gatherings for its relaxing and calming qualities.
Kava root contains kavalactones and other therapeutic compounds that target the limbic system and can treat ailments such as anxiety, stress, restlessness and insomnia. It may even help ward off panic attacks. Those with mild depression may benefit from taking kava, plus it can have a calming effect on those trying to stop smoking or drinking alcohol. Unlike many conventional tranquilizers, kava doesn't seem to cloud the mind or become addictive.
Kava also can help relieve pain and relax the muscles. Some studies have shown kava prevents seizures - such as epileptic attacks - most likely a result of stress relief which can trigger these episodes. Kava is also being studied as a supplement for stroke patients, helping minimize the brain damage that can occur.
Work with your doctor if you want to try kava. It should never be taken in conjunction with certain antidepressants, sedatives or tranquilizers, and it should be avoided when drinking alcohol. Don't exceed recommended doses, as excessive kava consumption can lead to intoxication and disorientation.