Piper methysticum
Common Name: kava
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Piperaceae
Native Range: Polynesia, Vanuatu, Australia, Malaysia, southeast Asia, Philippines, New Guinea, Indonesia
Zone: 11 to 12
Height: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: Creamy white
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 11-12 where this shrub is best grown in deep, organically rich, well-drained soils in moist, humid, tropical conditions with frequent rainfall. Best located in shady areas that are protected from drying winds. Plants are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants). Propagation is by root mass divisions or stem cuttings, in large part because female plants are not only rare but usually do not set seed.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Piper methysticum, commonly called kava, is an upright, dioecious, evergreen shrub that grows to 10-15’ tall with heart-shaped glossy dark green leaves (to 6” long.). It currently grows on a number of South Pacific islands (Micronesia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Guinea, the Samoas, Tonga and Vanuatu), but the specific place of origin is unknown. Male plants produce short cylindrical spikes (to 5” long) of small creamy white flowers, but female plants rarely flower. Roots reportedly have a long history of use in the South Pacific islands for certain herbal/medicinal preparations, including a sedative drink called kava which is now commercially sold in bottles. Kava is a cash crop in Vanuatu and Fiji. The beverage is consumed to promote relaxation and ease stress without interfering with alert mental functioning. It is also taken as a sacrament prior to ceremonies or in the spirit of friendship at social get-togethers. Active ingredients in the roots are kavalactones which have sedative and anesthetic properties. Preparation involves grinding or pounding the root into a powder and adding the powder to water. Piper nigrum is the source of black and white pepper used throughout the world.

Piper from Latin means pepper and methysticum from Greek means intoxicating.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

This tropical shrub is infrequently grown in the U.S. except for Hawaii. In temperate climates, it may be grown in containers that are overwintered indoors from fall to spring.