A couple of weeks ago my day job took me off to Fort Lauderdale in Florida for a few days, which isn’t bad work if you can get it. In between the worky stuff (eating, drinking, sitting on boats) I got a fair bit of free time and as such I was thinking….hmmm, what might make a good blog post here. I had a few choices….
a) I could go flying on a water powered jetpack
b) I could do stand-up paddleboarding
c) I could go and drink a relaxing herbal drink currently banned in the UK and see what happened
After a brief ponder I came to a decision…..answer A was probably not covered by my travel insurance, answer B would be the normal thing for a health blog to do, so there was only really one option. C – go and drink some kava..
Kava is a drink traditionally consumed in the South Pacific. Made from the root of a plant in the pepper family it’s drunk socially there in the same way as beer and wine. When I first started out as a health writer many moons ago, kava was actually sold in the UK as a stress reducing supplement kind of like St John’s Wort or 5-htp – because of that I had heard of it and, back in 2002 I interviewed a guy called Chris Kilham, aka The Medicine Hunter, who goes round the world checking out traditional herbs and even now I remember what he told me about how kava is traditionally used because I loved his description so much. Here’s what I printed at the time……
Kava is most common used now as an intoxicant. The root is distilled into a milky white beverage that’s drunk at home or in ‘kava bars’ and it only takes a coconut shell full to create an effect described by one user as ‘wearing a duvet against the world.’ Its slightly sedative, fuzzy-making effects however are considerably more pleasant than it’s taste. ‘It’s pretty pungent,’ says Chris Kilham. ‘In fact, the men spend the whole night spitting to get rid of the taste so by the end of the night the floor of your average kava bar is awash with spit.’
However, shortly after I wrote that, things changed and in 2003 kava was banned in the UK due to concerns regarding liver health. Much debate rages as to whether there is a risk to the liver when it’s used sensibly and in the right form (only the root should be used, not the whole plant) but the fact is, it’s now currently illegal to sell kava in the UK,
I was therefore very surprised when I was doing my investigation of things to do in Fort Lauderdale to find a couple of kava bars selling drinks made from kava powder legally in Fort Lauderdale – one of which, KavaSutra, was on the super-lively and tourist-friendly Las Olas Boulevard. It turns out the US overturned their ban on kava in 2008 and as such, I wouldn’t be breaking any laws by trying it. I still remembered that interview and so wanted to give it a go. Further investigation on KavaSutra revealed it was actually a chain with a few branches around the US – and it even had instagram! the time I had free to visit it was also broad daylight – 10am in the morning – and so I figured all would be good to head off there. Admittedly, I was hoping there wouldn’t be a floor full of spit to contend with……not least as I was wearing flip flops,
I found the bar and wandered in. I admit, fish out of water came to mind a little bit. The girl outside was wearing tie dye, the girl inside had shaved sides to her hair, the barman looked super hipster and I’m in there in my Dorothy Perkins dress looking like I’m off to a job interview, but I sucked up all the bravery I could muster, played the ‘blogger’ card and asked what a kava novice should have.
‘Actually you need the strongest form,’ said hipster barman who was actually super friendly once he realised I was interested and not lost. He explained that the more you use kava the more sensitive you become to the active ingredients, kavalactones, within it, and so, at first, a small dose won’t have much effect, you have to go large. He whisked me up a brew that looked kind of like muddy water (but was sadly in an orange plastic bowl not a coconut shell), he popped a bit of pineapple on the side and brought it over. ‘Drink it as fast as you can and use the pineapple as a chaser,’ he recommended. Phrases like that normally get me into trouble so, I started off just taking a mouthful of the stuff. Actually, it didn’t taste so bad – I like bitter things and that was the overwhelming taste, but the texture was a bit like drinking aforementioned muddy water – gritty and not massively conducive to savouring and so I knocked the rest back and ate my pineapple as suggested – I guess that’s to limit the spitting. For the record, I can firmly state the floor of Kava Sutra is spit free!
Hipster barman then gave me a pint of water and I sat around wondering what happened next. First up my lips went numb which I admit sent me into a small panic – I have never taken any drugs due to that the fear that I would be that one person who ended up in hospital the first time they took something – and so, at this point, the worry prone part of my head was going ‘oh, no what have you done……is the first sign of liver failure numb lips?.’ Thankfully though there were videos of fish and snails on the televisions around the bar to distract me, and so I didn’t hit Dr Google, instead I just sat there thinking of Dory and relaxed. At this point I didn’t really feel like anything had happened and so, after about 20 minutes of fiddling with my phone and watching snails, I headed off to do some research for my real job – which involved the arduous task of buying what’s rumoured to be the best ice cream in Fort Lauderdale!!!
It was only when I was back outside walking down the road that I realised how good I felt. That duvet description above was absolutely right. It was like that happy, slightly numb feeling you get after a big glass of wine – but without the fear that you might do something stupid in a minute because your faculties are a bit impaired. I was totally compos mentis but just with nice happy bubble around me – considering I was walking around in one of my favourite states in the world with sunshine and bright blue sky you could say I was in a happy place. I had been worried it might make me drowsy but I wasn’t tired either….I could definitely get used to that feeling.
So, would I do it again? Well. no. While there is a lot of debate regarding the study that showed links with liver damage, it’s still recommended that you shouldn’t really use kava if you drink alcohol often – which I do. I also did end up rather erm, cleansed, shall we say, the morning after which may or may not have been related to it but isn’t something I’d like to encourage. I was really glad I tried it though – not least because normally I would have chickened out of going and so I was super impressed with my bravery.
If you want to know more about the dos and don’t of kava, this is a good article to check out. It’s got a bit of a biased sounding heading but I thought it was actually quite measured.
So, I have to ask what’s the bravest thing you’ve done on your travels? And would you have preferred I’d done the jetpack!
Disclosure: I was hosted on my trip by Fort Lauderdale tourist board – as I say though it was for my day job rather than the blog, but still – honesty and all that. I stayed at the Pelican Grand Beach Resort which was so relaxing I didn’t need the kava. I’d stayed at the hotel before many years ago but it’s got even more beautiful. I normally prefer modern hotels but this has quite an olde Southern US feel with lots of white wood, shutters and rocking chairs on the porch that you could sit in for hours. The spa is also amazing. I can’t do a review on on that until after my proper piece comes out but watch this space for that one.