1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kava

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KAVA (Cava or Ava), an intoxicating, but non-alcoholic beverage, produced principally in the islands of the South Pacific, from the roots or leaves of a variety of the pepper plant (Piper methysticum). The method of preparation is somewhat peculiar. The roots or leaves are first chewed by young girls or boys, care being taken that only those possessing sound teeth and excellent general health shall take part in this operation. The chewed material is then placed in a bowl, and water or coco-nut milk is poured over it, the whole is well stirred, and subsequently the woody matter is removed by an ingenious but simple mechanical manipulation. The resulting liquid, which has a muddy or café-au-lait appearance, or is of a greenish hue if made from leaves, is now ready for consumption. The taste of the liquid is at first sweet, and then pungent and acrid. The usual dose corresponds to about two mouthfuls of the root. Intoxication (but this apparently only applies to those not inured to the use of the liquor) follows in about twenty minutes. The drunkenness produced by kava is of a melancholy, silent and drowsy character. Excessive drinking is said to lead to skin and other diseases, but per contra many medicinal virtues are ascribed to the preparation. There appears to be little doubt that the active principle in this beverage is a poison of an alkaloidal nature. It seems likely that this substance is not present as such (i.e. as a free alkaloid) in the plant, but that it exists in the form of a glucoside, and that by the process of chewing this glucoside is split up by one of the ferments in the saliva into the free alkaloid and sugar.

See Pharm. Journ. iii. 474; iv. 85; ix. 219; vii. 149; Comptes Rendus, 1. 436, 598; lii. 206; Journ. de Pharm. (1860) 20; (1862) 218; Seeman, Flora Vitiensis, 260; Beachy, Voyage of the “Blossom,” ii. 120.