The sober social scene may be thriving, but that doesn't mean the wellness world is eschewing every mind-altering beverage. And there's no buzzier option to getting, well, a buzz than kava.
The root-based drink is hardly new—in fact, it's literally ancient (islanders in the South Pacific have been growing and sipping it for centuries)—but suddenly the sedative is showing up on the menus of Manhattan hotspots, in the at-home pantries of healthy influencers, and as the centerpiece of high-vibe happenings.
And, while kava's 100 percent legal, some good-life practitioners swear that it helps them get seriously elevated. Plus, the science backs them up; according to Danielle DuBois, co-founder of Sakara and fan of the root, "Kava has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It also up-regulates receptors of GABA, a neurotransmitter that's essential for healthy brain function and balanced moods."
You might say drinking kava at, say, a yoga festival is the modern wellness crowd's answer to hanging in the beer garden at Coachella. But why is it having a moment right now?
Scroll down for 3 reasons why kava is trending.
It helps you relax—without causing a hangover
Booze has traditionally been a go-to remedy for calming first-date jitters or relieving that tense feeling after a long day of work. And while happy hour isn't going anywhere, alcohol-free kava bars are appearing across the country—think Kavasutra in New York City’s East Village and Kava Lounge SF in San Francisco—as more people search for an alternative way to chill out.
Why? The effects are similar to that of a cocktail, without the next-day headache.
That said, not all kavas are created equal. Judd Rench, the owner of Bula Kava House in Portland, says there are a ton of different types—more than 100 in fact—and each one has its own unique effect and taste. “They have varying levels of active ingredients, which means they’ll have varying effects of potency,” he says. (Kind of like all the different strains of cannabis.)
"You shouldn’t mix any sedating medicine—natural or pharmaceutical—with alcohol."
It's why most menus outline the types of kava on offer, calling out the level of strength. A warning to your tastebuds: the stronger the variety, the more earthy and bitter it will taste. If you want to sweeten things up, mix your kava with coconut or almond milk and add in fresh fruit like banana or pineapple. Or try it hot with milk, like a latte.
Another important thing to remember is that kava and alcohol don't mix, so bar-hopping before ending the evening with a kava-infused nightcap isn't recommended. “You shouldn’t mix any sedating medicine—natural or pharmaceutical—with alcohol,” says Dr. Steven Ehrlich, who practices naturopathic medicine and has studied the root’s effects.
It can intensify your yoga practice or party experience
Like alcohol or cannabis, kava can also help you open up more at parties. It's a big reason why Caity Flanagan, a life coach and herbal practitioner, uses kava to make mocktails for happenings at spots like New York's The Alchemist's Kitchen.
"Kava enriches the experience of wellness events through its unique ability to bring people deeply into their bodies and the present moment," she says. That's also true on the mat—which is why you might be offered a kava concoction at your next retreat. “Like that first glass of red wine, it relaxes muscles in the places where we hold tension in the body." So yes, downward dog feels especially good after downing a kava beverage—good news if ganja yoga's not legal where you live.
It can help you sleep
Chasing an Ambien with a glass of wine every night isn't exactly a good habit to get into, but sipping on some kava is an all-natural way to get better zzz's.
When Sakara founders Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise heard about kava's sleep-promoting benefits, they were so excited that they crafted a whole nighttime tea around it, pairing it with catnip (yes, really)—also known to invoke shut-eye. "It helps the body and mind relax so you can fall into deep, restorative sleep," Tingle says. (Kava's also the active ingredient in a bedtime supplement by Urban Moonshine.)
Though Dr. Ehrlich says he doesn’t know of any data suggesting kava fosters a chemical dependency—like other sleep aids—he still urges people with a history of addiction to take it easy. “It will definitely trigger certain calming and pleasure centers in the brain,” he explains. But all things considered, the side effects associated with kava seem to be almost zero—making the ensuing stress relief, good vibes, and better rest an even sweeter dream.
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