The name Kava may have developed from the Hawaiian word, "awa," which means "bitter." Kava was reserved for use by royalty, priests and chiefs throughout the South Pacific islands. It was offered as a celebratory drink to honored guests to celebrate a variety of events and to restore goodwill.
For as long as 3,000 years dried Kava has been used to make ceremonial beverages used to welcome royalty and honored guests to the islands of the South Pacific. Kava, a member of the pepper family, was discovered by Captain Cook on his voyages to the area in the 1760s and subsequently brought back to Europe.
Kava rhizomes were prepared by the chewing by a virgin, if they could find one, who would then spit it into a cup and mix it with cold water to be enjoyed by the quests. Kava, in this form, was said to have produced feelings of well-being and contentment while leaving the celebrators with a numb mouth. In Hawaii the priests known as "Kahunas" would read the bubbles on the surface of a cup of kava, to divine the future or to discover the meaning of coming events. It was used as a doorway to the spirit world or as a means of gaining hidden knowledge.
Kava as kava tea has become popular in current times for treating anxiety, insomnia and as an effective alternative to prescription tranquilizers. However reports on the side effects of kava including liver damage prompted the Food and Drug Administration and agencies in Canada and Europe to issue warnings regarding its use. The safety of Kava is still being studied and debated.