Kava is a ceremonial and medicinal drink from the Pacific Islands. Whether you’ve bought kava for sleep, relaxation, or to enhance your creative work, there are a few things you need to know before you make your first cup.
In this quick (but thorough) reference guide, we’ll cover all the important information you need to know to get started.
This guide will cover three important aspects of kava consumption:
- How to properly measure out doses of kava
- How to prepare kava using different methods
- How to stay safe using kava and avoid common side-effects
Let’s dive straight in.
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Kava Plant
Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is the common name for a traditional plant medicine from the South Pacific. Its roots were used for medicinal, ceremonial, and social applications. In high doses, kava has a mild euphoric “high”. In smaller doses kava is a powerful anxiolytic (alleviates anxiety) and stress-reducing herb.
More recently, the use of kava has spread across the world where it’s become incredibly popular.
High stress levels, infrequent sleep, and anxiety are all common in the developed world — which makes kava the perfect herb for the modern era.
You can find kava supplements in the form of raw powder, tea bags, capsules, tinctures, and specialty items like kava bars and other edibles.
There are over 105 different varieties of kava — each with their own unique set of effects. Some are strong sedatives, others milder. Some kava is prone to side-effects like nausea, while others are noted to be side-effect free. Finding the ideal kava variety for you depends on what you want to get out of it.
For social gatherings, a more subtle kava strain like Borogu is the best option. For people looking to use kava for sleep, a stronger, more sedative kava strain like Loa Waka is a better option.
Check out our kava reviews to find out which kava is best for you.
1. Dosing Kava The Right Way
There are many factors that go into calculating your kava dose. Establishing the correct doses is essential to getting the most benefits from the herb.
Getting the perfect dose will vary from one person to the next, and relies on the strength of kava you choose, and the desired effects.
We’ve broken the doses into two options:
- Low dose kava
- High dose kava
For an average-strength kava product, the usual dose per person is around 10 – 15 grams of powder for a low dose, and 20 – 30 grams of powder for a high dose.
This assumes the kavalactone content of the kava is around the 8% average. If you’re using kava that’s stronger or weaker, keep reading to learn how we figure out the ideal dose for kava of any strength.
Step 1: Determine the Reason For Taking Kava
The first step to finding the right dose of kava is to decide what you want to get out of the kava — this will determine if you should use a low dose or a high dose. Check out the table below to help you decide whether you should use a higher or lower dose of kava.
These doses are measured according to kava’s active compounds — the kavalactones.
What constitutes a low dose compared to a high dose of kava?
- Low kava dose — equivalent kavalactone content of 70 – 140 mg.
- High kava dose — equivalent kavalactone content of 200 – 300 mg
Reference Chart for Dosage Recommendations By Desired Effects
|Low Dose Kava (70 – 140 mg)||High Dose Kava (200 – 250 mg)|
|• Mild euphoria
• Intense focus and concentration
• Subtle relaxation and calmness
• Slightly energized OR low-energy
• May feel a reduction in pain
• May feel like falling asleep
• Couch-lock, heavy sensation
• Carefree and unmotivated
• Reduced pain and muscle tension
Step 2: Calculate the Dose of Kava
The dosage recommendations of kava are based on the active ingredients — the kavalactones. So the next step is to figure out how much kava capsules kava tea you need to reach the desired dose of kavalactones.
The kavalactone content can vary dramatically from one brand to the next so it’s important to read the packaging before use.
Most kava contains between 6% – 10% kavalactones per gram of powder. The strongest kava will have closer to 20% and weak kava may have as low ass 3% kavalactones by weight.
From here, we can calculate the equivalent amount of kava powder to reach this dose. We then multiply the dose by 10 to account for the fact that only about 10% of the kavalactones in kava will find their way into the final tea.
Although a lot of sources online recommend the dose of kava powder in teaspoons or cups — we highly recommend using weight instead of volume.
If a company uses a coarser grind to make its kava powder, it will affect the amount of kava that fits in a given amount of space.
Comparing the Dose of Kava Powder By Strength
|Dosage||Kavalactone Dose||Weak Kava Dose (3%)||Average Kava Dose (8%)||Very Strong Kava Dose (20%)|
|Low Dose Range||70 – 140 mg||20 – 40 grams
(0.7 – 0.14 oz)
|10 – 13 grams
(0.3 – 0.5 oz)
|4 – 7 grams
(0.15 – 0.25 oz)
|High Dose Range||200 – 250 mg||60 grams
|20 – 30 grams
(0.7 – 1 oz)
|10 – 13 grams
(0.4 – 0.5 oz)
If you can’t determine how strong the kava you’re using is, don’t worry — but err on the side of caution until you know how strong that particular brand is. Start on the lower end of the dosage (4 – 7 grams) and build up gradually over time once you’re more familiar with that particular brand and how it affects you personally.
2. Preparing Kava
So now that you’ve bought some kava, how do you use it?
Kava comes in a few different forms, each one with a different method of preparation and its own set of pros and cons.
A) Kava Capsules & Tinctures
The easiest kava to prepare are capsules and tinctures. All you need to do is follow the directions on the bottle. This will usually involve taking between one and four capsules per day or a few drops of a tincture.
Make sure to check the dose on the bottle as this can vary depending on the strength.
B) Kava Steep Tea
Here, we’re talking about kava in the form of a steep tea. Usually, this tea comes mixed with other herbs in a teabag. This is considered the weakest form of kava because only a small amount of the kavalactones in the tea ever make their way into the water — and therefore your body.
Kava steep teas are also easy to prepare but rarely provide enough of a dose to achieve all the desired effects. This form of kava is better suited for casual use or in blends with other herbs to help with mild anxiety or sleeping difficulty.
To prepare this form of kava, simply steep the tea in boiling water and wait at least 15 minutes for the kavalactones to distribute into the water. You can re-steep up to 3 times.
C) Instant Kava
This form of kava is designed for simplicity. Instant kava usually comes in individual packages which can be added to a cup of hot water and stirred.
The kavalactone content of these products varies from one manufacturer to the next — so always follow the directions on the label when using this form of kava.
D) Powdered Kava (Traditional Kava Tea)
The most common way to use powdered kava is to prepare a batch using the traditional method developed on the Pacific islands where the plant originates. The process involves mixing the kava powder in a bowl using a cloth strainer until most of the phytochemicals in the plant have dissolved into the water.
You can also mix kava using a blender, and pour the mixture through a strainer.
Preparing kava using the traditional method will require a little bit of time and a few additional tools — but it adds to the ritual of kava consumption. This is a perfect way to use kava for meditation, creative work, or in social gatherings with friends.
You’ll need the following items to prepare kava using the traditional method:
- Raw kava powder (using the doses listed above)
- A strainer bag (Fijian strainer bag, old T-shirt, or cheesecloth)
- Warm water (20 times the weight in grams, or 4 times the volume)
- Some milk or nut milk
- A bowl large enough to contain all the ingredients listed above
- Individual drinking cups
Step 1: Measure the Desired Amount of Kava Powder
Use the chart above to determine how much kava to use. You can also use teaspoons to measure out the dose as well — but this isn’t recommended. One tablespoon can range from 3 – 6 grams of kava.
For a single user, around 5 – 15 grams is a suitable place to start with most kava powders.
If you’re using kava for more than one person, multiply the dose by the number of people in the group. Kava powders make it much easier to use with larger groups of people and is the standard way of making kava with this method.
Add the kava to the strainer bag and place both inside the bowl.
Estimated Kava Doses in Grams & Tablespoons
|Kava Dosage||Estimated Dose in Tablespoons (Coarse Ground Kava)||Estimated Dose in Tablespoons (Fine Ground Kava)|
|4 – 7 grams||1 – 2 tbsp||0.5 – 1 tbsp|
|10 – 13 grams||3 – 4 tbsp||1.5 – 2 tbsp|
|20 – 40 grams||6 – 10 tbsp||3 – 6 tbsp|
|60 grams||10 – 15 tbsp||10 tbsp|
*IMPORTANT: These figures are rough estimates only. Kava can vary significantly in volume compared to weight depending on the grind, and lipid/water content of the final product. We highly recommend you go by weight instead of volume for measuring dose.
Step 2: Add the Water & Milk
You should use about 20 times as much water in milliliters as you used in grams of kava. So a standard 15 gram dose of kava powder should use about 300 mL of water.
If you used volume (tablespoons or cups), you should add about 4 times as much water as kava.
Pour the water over the strainer.
Some people prefer to add some milk or nut milk to the mix. This is optional — traditionally milk was not used to make kava tea, just water.
Milk helps remove the bitter flavor and can improve the strength of the tea you’re making. How does this work? Kavalactones dissolve better in fats than they do in water — so adding a source of fat (from milk) may increase the amount of kavalactones that end up in the final brew.
Cow milk works much better for this than nut milk due to the lower fat content of nut milk.
If you would like to add milk or nut milk, add up to 25% of the liquid content as milk instead of water.
Using the recipe above, for 15 grams of kava you can add 75 mL milk with 225 mL water.
Estimated Kava Doses in Grams & Tablespoons
|Kava Dosage||Water Content||*Milk Content|
|5 grams||75 – 100 mL||0 – 25 mL|
|10 grams||150 – 200 mL||0 – 50 mL|
|15 grams||225 – 300||0 – 75 mL|
|20 grams||300 – 400||0 – 100 mL|
|30 grams||450 – 600||0 – 150 mL|
|40 grams||600 – 800||0 – 200 mL|
|50 grams||750 – 1000||0 – 250 mL|
|60 grams||900 – 1200||0 – 300 mL|
*NOTE: Milk is completely optional — traditional preparations of the herb don’t use milk. This is done to add flavor to the mix and help pull kavalactones into the tea.
Step 3: Alternate between soaking the strainer and squeezing it dry
The kavalactones will begin dissolving into the water and milk through the strainer. Since these compounds don’t like to mix into water, you’ll need to give them some help. You can do this by soaking the strainer full of kava in the water and then pulling it out to squeeze all the fluid out. Rinse and repeat.
Do this repeatedly for about 5 – 10 minutes.
Step 4: Squeeze All the Remaining Water Out of the Kava
By now, you have a greyish-brown water that looks a lot like mud. This is good. If you can still see the bottom of the bowl, it means you probably didn’t use enough kava, or you added too much water. It should be light-colored, but opaque.
Pull the strainer out of the water, and squeeze every last drop from the strainer possible. Then move this aside — you can re-use the kava 2 or 3 times if you want. Each time will produce a weaker brew.
Step 5: Drink Up!
Once the strainer is out of the bowl, use a small cup to take the first drink. Depending on how much kava you used in the first step will determine how many cups you should fill up from the batch.
All you need to do now is sit back and enjoy some fresh kava.
If you find the taste of kava is too bitter, it helps to keep some fruit around to use as a chaser. Pineapple, peaches, and mango work great!
3. Safety: Staying Safe While Taking Kava
Like any herb or supplement, there are potential side-effects to using kava. Here’s a brief overview of the most common side-effects depending on the dosage range you’re using:
Side-Effects of Kava By Dosage
|Low Dose Kava (70 – 140 mg)||High Dose Kava (200 – 300 mg)|
• Lack of motivation
• Poor concentration
• Visual disturbances
• Kava “Hangover”
Most of the side-effects of kava can be mitigated by a few simple safety measures:
1. Consult With Your Doctor Before Using Kava if You Have Health Issues
Kava is considered by experts to be a very safe herb. However, if you have certain underlying health conditions, kava may come with a higher risk of injury or illness.
This is especially the case with liver disease, kidney dysfunction, or certain neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
If you’ve never used kava before, have underlying health issues, or have been recently diagnosed with something — make sure to check with your doctor before using kava. They’ll be able to give you more specific information about whether or not kava is safe for you or not.
2. Pay Attention to the Dose
Traditionally, the dose of kava wasn’t so important. Indigenous cultures using the herb didn’t have any way of knowing the kavalactone content of the cultivars they were using but had a much deeper connection to the plant than we do today.
Kava brewing was supervised by experienced users who had a strong understanding of how the plant affected the body and knew how much of the herb they should give to new users.
In the modern era, it’s rare that you’ll be drinking kava with someone with a lifetime of experience using the herb, so we need to rely more on the dose.
We’ve highlighted the methods for determining the dose above if you’re not sure where to start. This isn’t a precise science, and most people will end up using rough estimates on the dose of kava anyway — but only after they’ve gained some experience with the herb.
We highly recommend that you take the time to figure out the optimal doses when you first start using kava, or if you order a type of kava you’ve never tried before.
3. Never Mix Kava With Alcohol, Antidepressants, or Antibiotics
Kava is not considered liver toxic on its own — but can magnify the effects of other compounds on the liver if taken at the same time. The most common culprits of this are antibiotics, Aspirin, and alcohol.
Whenever you use kava, make sure you take it at least two hours apart from any of these compounds to avoid causing any harm to your liver or other internal organs.
Additionally, kava may act synergistically with other anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants — causing an effect much stronger than you accounted for. This can be very dangerous, so never use kava if you’re taking other anti-anxiety medications (like benzodiazepines) or antidepressants (like SSRI medications).
4. Take Breaks From Using Kava
Short term side-effects of kava are mild, usually involving things like fatigue, sedation, visual disturbances, lightheadedness, or nausea. These side-effects are manageable and will go away as the kava wears off.
The more serious side-effects take much longer to develop — like changes in blood cells and plasma production, skin rashes, apathy, or pulmonary hypertension. These symptoms require long-term kava use in high doses.
Long-term, regular use can also become habit-forming and extended long-term use may result in becoming mildly addicted to kava.
The best way to avoid these side-effects is to simply take breaks every now and then if using the herb on a regular basis.
Some people will use kava for three weeks in a row, followed by one week off. Others choose to use kava for three days with one day off. The results are similar for each and are usually enough to circumvent side-effects of long-term kava consumption.
Final Thoughts on Using Kava
Kava is an excellent herb for people experiencing bouts of anxiety, high levels of stress, creative blocks, difficulty sleeping, or as a social beverage to share with friends and family.
The key to using it correctly relies on using the right dose, proper preparation, and taking measures to ensure you reduce your chances of experiencing side-effects.
The best way to use kava is to find capsules with a standardized kavalactone content or a powder with the kavalactone content listed. We prefer the powder using the traditional preparation methods used in the South Pacific because of its ritualistic experience that compliments the calming nature of kava. It also adds a layer of enjoyment when preparing kava in a group setting with friends and family.
Kava is very safe and rarely causes anything more than mild side-effects like fatigue or nausea. Minimizing side-effects can be done by speaking with a doctor, paying attention to the dose you’re using, and making sure to take some time off of kava when using it over longer periods of time.