Tea Blog

Kava Kava in Depth

Kava Kava, Piper methysticum  

Within the realm of medicinal plants, there is one plant that roots deep, grounding into past traditions, while simultaneously growing toward a future in the modern world. This plant is none other than kava kava. Whether you have heard of this species or not, it is truly making headway, and for good reason. The use of kava kava (whose scientific name means “intoxicating” in Latin) has grown increasingly in recent years due to its powerful properties of physical relaxation and mental stimulation. In this article we want to dive with you into the inciting past and invigorating present of this plant.

Kava kava root (called “‘Awa” in Hawai’ian, “‘Ava” in Samoan, or simply “Kava” for short) originates in Polynesia, Micronesia and the Philippines. This tropical plant is a member of the Pepper family (Piperaceae) and thus, needs moist and well-draining soils to flourish. Kava is an understory species that can be propagated from stem cuttings and reaches 6-12 feet tall when mature. The roots are the most utilized part of the plant and are traditionally harvested when the kava plant is around 5 years old. This ensures the roots have peak kavalactone content, the active component sought after by humans. 

Kava kava translates as “talk talk” or “chat chat” and is used in Pacific Islander culture as a sacred ceremonial offering or as a peaceful social drink for formal meetings and social gatherings. Its analgesic qualities help humans feel good, ease their sorrows, lift their spirits and take away their pain. Kava also mildly sedates the nervous system. Therefore it is often used ceremonially to increase camaraderie, decrease social barriers and get people talking and discussing without restriction. Feuding families are often made to drink kava together so they will talk and negotiate. 

In larger doses kava is a tranquilizer with relaxing psychotropic properties that makes drinkers drowsy. However drinking it doesn’t dull consciousness. In fact, it can be mildly mentally stimulating. For this reason kava is traditionally used for divination, to find words, a song, to get advice or to hold congress with the dead. 

In the western world kava is one of the more widely examined and researched plants. This is mainly because of kava’s kavalactone content and its effects on the limbic system, the area of the brain that deals with memory and emotions. There are 6 major kavalactones found in kava and all 6 differ in their psychoactive properties, how quickly they take effect, and their duration. These kavalactones bind to various neuroreceptors in the brain, including dopamine and possibly GABA-A receptors, and cause behavioral changes at low doses. Relaxation, euphoria, and talkativeness are common feelings associated with this kavalactone action.

Because of these kavalactones, kava kava causes a drastic reduction in stress and anxiety, and is often used as an antidepressant. It can enhance serenity and well-being in drinkers while leveling their emotions. It can be stimulating in high amounts however, so the dosage must be determined on an individual basis. Despite these strong properties, kava is non-addictive and doesn’t lose effectiveness over time. 

Kava also works well as a local anesthetic. It sedates nerves and causes immediate numbness in the mouth when drunk and can relax the jaws. This makes it a great remedy to take prior to dental work. Kava kava is also useful for helping pass kidney stones, and decrease tenseness in other internal muscles, due to it’s antispasmodic and analgesic properties. However, to benefit from kava use, one must choose the right cultivar, or variety, of the plant.

There are hundreds of kava cultivars, despite domestication dates being estimated as only 3000-3500 years ago. Out of all these varieties, only strains deemed as “noble” varieties should be consumed. There are many concerns over adverse effects from non-noble (tudei) varieties, so therefore these should be avoided. Some kava strains have higher cerebral effects than others as well, due to the variation in kavalactones. This cerebral effect is also influenced by how kava is prepared. 

Traditionally, kava root is masticated (chewed) in a group for five or ten minutes so the saliva and teeth can begin to soften and separate the fibers (and extract the water insoluble kavalactone resins from the plant starches). It is then spat out onto leaves, pounded, wrapped in cloth and the emulsified juice squeezed out. Then the whole bundle is put into a bowl with cold or coconut water where it is continually squeezed and scooped out for drinking. All the while more coconut water is added for each batch of drink. Adding fats, such as coconut water, to the kava drink extracts its kavalactones, giving you a stronger product.  

In kava bars in the states, large mechanical meat-grinders are used to mash up the root. The juice is then strained, and sometimes diluted with water, which can make it look muddy. Other styles use powdered kava, which is added to water and kneaded prior to straining. Ideally kava is consumed in the evening because of its potential deep sedative properties. Half a coconut shell of well-prepared strong kava will put a drinker to sleep within half an hour. Because of these sedative properties it’s best not to attempt to operate heavy machinery or perform other dangerous activities while under the influence of kava!  

Other cautions should also be taken when choosing to consume kava on a regular basis. Since kava is filtered through the liver, drinking it for prolonged time periods can impair liver function, similarly to alcohol. Because of this, it is not wise to mix kava with alcohol or prescription medications so as not to burden the liver further. Heavy and continuous use of kava can also result in skin problems since it alters liver function over time. Overall, we keep the “everything in moderation” saying in mind when talking about kava. Kava in moderation can calm and ease you, take away pain, help you sleep, and promote togetherness.

Conclusion:

Now that we have scratched the surface of all this intriguing plant has to offer, you may want to try some! We offer a high quality strain of kava kava root powder and our Catch some ZZZ’s tea features kava root in its ingredients. 

Also look for other articles on medicinal herbs used in our tea blends on our blog page!

Written by: Greta de la Montagne, registered herbalist; @MontagneGreta; with Gentle Strength Botanicals

Edited by: Boo Curry; Lake Missoula Tea Company, @booccurry

References: 

Hawaiian Herbal Medicine by Kahuna La’au Lapa’au

Practical Folk Medicine of Hawai’i by L.R. McBride

Materia Medica class notes, Southwest School of Botanical Medicine

The Essential Guide to Western Botanical Medicine by Christa Sinadinos

Pharmako-Poeia; Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft by Dale Pendell

Kava, the Pacific Drug by Lebot, Merlin, and Lindstrom

Wikipedia

Brew Tea Simply

New to tea brewing or just looking for new tea tips and tricks? Turns out, brewing tea is pretty straight-forward. In this guide, we will touch on the basics of brewing your best cup of tea yet.

People have been brewing tea for centuries. From the first cup of tea (purportedly made by tea leaves falling into a cup of spring water), to the working-class English tea brewed on lunch break, to our home offices today, tea has always had a way of simply being in people’s lives. This may be due to its ability to enhance our mental and physical selves, or possibly to its ease of brewing. Even though tea and tea vessels used to brew vary widely, the basics of brewing remain consistent. It’s time for a refresher of the main considerations when brewing tea.

To brew tea simply, there are 4 main things to keep in mind:

  • quality of the tea leaves you intend to brew
  • cleanliness of the water used when brewing
  • the amount of time and temperature at which you brew your leaves
  • enjoying your finished product!

Quality Tea

The type and quality of leaves you brew will make or break your drink. If you haven’t tried full leaf organic tea yet, now is the time. Steeping quality organic tea leaves will dramatically improve your tea game. These leaves have more integrity and flavor nuances than your run-of-the-mill tea bags. In addition, drinking organic tea often supports smaller-scale farms and farmers and results in less environmentally damaging cultivation processes. Whole leaf teas (as opposed to crushed tea in tea bags) yield multiple infusions, instead of losing all the flavor in the first steep. Subsequent infusions often lend to slight changes in flavor and aroma which can be fun to experience and observe.

Lastly, just as fresh ingredients make for a better dish, fresh tea leaves make a better cup. Be sure the tea you select to brew is properly stored to maintain its freshness and flavor. Keep your tea in airtight containers to maintain its freshness post purchase. Tea likes tea, so store loose tea leaves in quantity. This helps retain its natural essence and character.

Clean Water

Clean water is a vital component of brewing an outstanding cup. Simple tap water often has chemicals for purification (such as chlorine) that can effect the flavor of your tea. If you are investing in a quality tea, why have its essence altered by treated water? Using spring or filtered water is the best option for brewing a cup of tea that tastes true to its region and processing methods. Flavor and profile nuances can be noticed with clean water. And if you drink a lot of tea, chemical additives in the water will  build up in your tea brewing system.

Steeping Time & Water Temperature

Both steeping time and water temperature for brewing tea are equally important variables to pay attention to. Depending on the type of tea you are brewing, time and temperature for steeping will vary widely.

Black and puerh teas can withstand boiling water, or water just settled from boiling when being brewed. In fact, puerh teas often need boiling water to help release their unique flavors. Black tea needs to be timed (usually 3-5 minutes) and not over steeped. Prolonged steeping can create an astringent and bitter cup. On the other hand, puerh teas are more forgiving and can be steeped for long or short infusions.

Oolong teas are similarly robust and forgivable and can usually be steeped with water anywhere between just boiled and 180 degrees. Oolong teas, however, are some of the most intricately processed teas and using the specific time-temperature recommendation for the variety will give you a cup that will not disappoint!

Green and white teas are some of the most delicate when it comes to tea brewing. Many think they do not like green teas because of their bitterness and strength. However, this is most likely due to over brewing! Green tea in particular can develop a cup that is unpleasant to drink when over brewed. Green teas should be steeped between 170 and 190 degrees depending on the variety, and never longer than 3 minuets. If unsure, err on the side of cooler water when brewing, or if using a hotter water, shorten your steeping time dramatically. White tea can withstand slightly higher water temperatures, but do not use water over 200 degrees. Brew white tea around 180 to 190 degrees, and cooler for more delicate types such as Yin Zhen (Silver Needles).

When in doubt, look for time and temperature recommendations listed on the teas you purchased.

Enjoyment

Enjoying your cup of tea is the final step of the tea brewing process. This is arguable the MOST important thing to keep in mind. There is really no point to making a cup of tea you do not intend to enjoy! Brewing and drinking tea can be a mindful process, a time for meditation and a way to reconnect with something simple. It can also be a way to test methods, get a little “science-y”, try new techniques and hone your tea game. Enjoying tea can also be done with others as a way to connect, converse over and share an experience. Make brewing and drinking tea your time.

Now that you know the tea brewing basics, you can successfully enjoy any cup of tea you steep! Although it may seem complicated at times, remember that the basics of brewing tea remain consistent. Even kids can get into the simple art of brewing tea! Watch as our friend Aiden shares how he brews tea. Remember brewing tea can teach us all something and there is always room for experimentation and creativity. Go forth and brew with simplicity!

For videos on brewing basics check out:

Also watch our London Fog or Making Matcha videos for more tea brewing excitement!

International Women’s Day and Tea

March is Women’s History month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. We think that both of these events are important to celebrate and acknowledge. March is an opportunity to recognize women in our personal and professional lives. We like to look at International Women’s Day through the lenses of women in tea. While women have always been an integral part of tea, their culture can often determine what a woman’s role in tea will be.

Many women have contributed to the success of Lake Missoula Tea Company and we hope that we’ve in turn contributed to their success. To promote woman owned businesses and to honor women in tea we developed our Women’s Empowerment Tea Box. Several women we work with promote and market their family teas. Others own tea shops and some even own tea farms. We are proud to work with companies that value and promote women equally to men. When women flourish, their families and communities do, too!

Women's Empowerment Tea Box
Women's Empowerment Tea Box
estate owner and nursery supervisor
Tea estate owner and nursery supervisor
With Carlotta Llano
With Carlotta Llano, owner Bitaco Tea
Women in tea symbol
Women in tea symbol

Get to Know Turmeric!

Some of you have most likely seen a bright yellow powder in a crafty cook’s kitchen cabinet, but how much do you really know about this eye-catching spice, turmeric? In this post herbalist Greta de la Montagne illuminates some prominent health benefits of turmeric and gives you great recipe ideas to see you get your daily dose of this powerful root.

Origins

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a wonderful member of the ginger family and is native to India and Southeast Asia. In fact, over 90% of the world’s supply of turmeric is cultivated in India. It thrives in tropical climates preferring moist, well-drained soil, and its snaking rhizomes (roots) are the part of the plant most often used. Turmeric is easy to grow and can be propagated from root cuttings or divisions. People in Asia have utilized this easy growing herb since 600 BC, but it has only enjoyed significant rising popularity in the US for roughly the past decade. 

Health benefits of turmeric

First and foremost, turmeric reduces inflammation. Curcumin (the compound that gives turmeric its intense yellow color) is the most researched constituent of the herb and is mainly responsible for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has effects comparable to cortisone and phenylbutazone, the standard in drugs for treating inflammation. However, curcumin is non-steroidal, so it has none of the side effects of using steroid anti-inflammatories. Curcumin also treats pain and promotes wound healing. Similar to cayenne, curcumin depletes nerve endings of the pain receptor neurotransmitter. Turmeric, therefore, can be used topically in a poultice for sprains and sore joints. 

Turmeric is also an excellent natural antibiotic. It strengthens digestion and improves intentional flora, it purifies and stimulates the blood, and is helpful in forming new tissue. Because of these wonderful healing properties, turmeric capsules can be very handy to have in your first aid kit!  

In Southeast Asia, where curry (fully loaded with turmeric) is consumed daily, there are very few instances of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It is now known that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin contribute to the excellent brain health of people in these cultures. This being said, isolated curcumin is not as effective as consuming turmeric in its entirety. To really reap the benefits of curcumin, turmeric must be taken wholly. Turmeric works even better when ingested along with black pepper. Piperine, a compound in black pepper, helps turmeric remain more bioavailable during the metabolic process. This means that more curcumin can be absorbed by your body, increasing the positive effects of turmeric, when eaten alongside black pepper!

Get your daily dose

The daily dose of turmeric powder for preventing inflammation in an average adult is up to 1 Tbs/day. People under 125lbs should get by with only consuming ½ tsp. For acute inflammation, like a sore knee, the dose might be as high as 4Tbs (1 ounce) per day. Turmeric is safe for everyone (similarly to ginger) and in fact, it is hard to take too much. There are always exceptions, however. People suffering from acute hepatitis and jaundice should not ingest too much turmeric, as well as pregnant women. As always, consult with your doctor or naturopath before taking on a serious increase in any herb in your diet. 

Cooking with turmeric

Turmeric is easy to add into any number of foods or drinks. Stir turmeric into warm tea, or mix it with honey to make a paste that can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, or other dishes. Turmeric is a great addition to chai tea blends which can help mask it’s somewhat bitter flavor. When buying turmeric, look for the color to be bright orange-yellow. This ensures the powder is fresh! You can also look for fresh roots alongside ginger in the supermarket. Just grate the roots to use as you would ginger root. Turmeric in this way can be added to soups, stews, curries and other savory dishes, where you can also add black pepper. But beware if you are a messy cook… turmeric stains yellow and can color anything from your countertop to your clothing!

Lake Missoula Tea Company offers several blends that incorporate turmeric! 

Golden milk gala

Have you ever seen someone sipping on a delightful gold and creamy drink? Turns out, drinking turmeric is a great way to heal with this herb. In India, turmeric is decocted into cow’s milk and a little pinch of black pepper is added before ingesting. A slightly more elaborate method is to make a turmeric paste and cook it into milk. This “golden milk” is becoming more widely available as a beverage in the supermarket and in tea and coffee shops. 

Folks are over the moon for our small batch blend of turmeric and spices! To prepare your own Golden Milk drink, mix:

  • two teaspoons of Lake Missoula Tea Company Golden Milk
  • honey (or sweetener of your choice)
  • about a cup of hot water 
  • 1/4 cup of milk of our choice
  • stir vigorously or blend to make extra frothy
  • optional: sprinkle cinnamon on top for a fun and warming effect, or rose water or ashwagandha root make great additions, too.
  • sip and smile!

Watch how we make our Golden Milks at the tea shop.

We hope you have enjoyed getting to know our lovely friend turmeric. We think this herb deserves all the praise, popularity and glowing remarks we can send its way! 

Written by: Greta de la Montagne, RH (Registered Herbalist), AHG (American Herbalists Guild), and Lake Missoula Tea Company’s herbalist consultant

Edited by: Boo Curry

References:

The Yoga of Herbs by David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad

Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals, Vol 1, Digestion and Elimination by Dr. Jill Stansbury, ND

The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs by KP Khalsa and Michael Tierra

Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone

The Essential Guide to Western Botanical Medicine  by Christa Sinadinos

The Ayurveda Encyclopedia by Swami Sada Shiva Turtha

Indian Materia Medica, Vol 1, by Dr. K.M.Nadkarni

A Manual of Materia Medica and Pharmacology by David M.R.Culbreth, MD 1927

The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics by Harvey Wickes Felter, MD

Medical Herbalism; The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffman, FNIMH

Tea is Global

“When we rise in the morning… at the table we drink coffee which is provided to us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African; before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to more than half the world.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As we celebrate this great man today, almost 53 years after his death, his words reminds us that we are living in a connected world and with that comes shared responsibility. Responsibility for each other, ourselves and our planet. Think about your daily actions and what has shaped them. Where do you get your goods from? Who do you support with your purchases? How have they helped to serve you? What would you do without them? Who are you beholden to?

Tea, like a vast number of other goods, is global. It is also universal. Tea travels the world and fills the cups of high ranking government officials and poor farmers alike. It is not classist nor separatist. Drinking tea can become a ritual, a mediation, and a time to reflect. Let’s reflect on how far we have come, who has laid the path for us, and set intentions for how much further we must go. For after all, we are together in this world.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man that preached love, togetherness and justice for all. Let’s not let his message fade. Rather let the words of this late hero hold true and fast, and his voice resonate within all of us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with tea cup