Hi kava lovers, in this edition of the "Fresh Harvest Newsletter I will be giving you a little bit of my Kava Biography. I was going to talk about my kava farm here in Hawaii and how I grow and process my kava but I am not finished with the pictures and editing the video so that will be in a future newsletter.
My First Time
My first memory of kava was when I heard my grandmother talking about how she would chew the kava for her dad. I always thought it was amazing how they prepared the kava back then. It really wasn’t that long ago and she was preparing Kava the way the islanders did for thousands of years. I am glad we have powder now. When we have fresh root, it is made into a pulp with a sausage grinder and not “chew and spit”.
The first time I drank kava, I was a teenager, I got some kava powder and my friend and I both tried it. The kava was very good and we both fell in love with it right away. I grew up in Waimea right above Waipio Valley and there is a lot of kava (the Hawaiians called it 'Awa) in the valley. One time I was down in the valley at my friend’s house and his dad was making some kava using a different technique. His dad had chopped up some of the fresh kava root into small chunks and he was simmering the kava on the stove. I was used to seeing the powder and so his was the first time that I ever saw the kava being chopped and heated. I tried some and I have to say it was a strong brew. I could see the oils on the top of the brew and it tasted terrible but the effects were strong and lasting.
Looking for Kava in all the Right Places
When I was growing up, Kava was commonplace. It was all over the Waipio Valley and I even went to the famous Queen’s patch to see the kava that was reserved only for her. By the way it was the 'Awa Moi so I can see why she wanted it for herself. I remember getting as many different kava varieties as I could. I would hike way back in the Waipio Valley to look for new undiscovered varieties of kava. I remember one time when I hiked so far that I reached what is called Waimanu Gap, this is where the back of Waipio connects to the back of Waimanu Valley. There I was standing in front of what looked like acres and acres of kava. This was the largest kava patch that I have ever seen in the wild and I was amazed. Some of these plants were larger than a full size truck.
Starting a Business
In the 1990's Kava started to become real popular and the demand for kava was on the rise. So I started to think about planting so I could resale to the kava market. I also started to look for others that were interested in growing kava or were already growing kava. At that time there were not that many people growing kava. I did find a kava collector and enthusiast that had a wealth of information, his name was Ed Johnston. We became good friends and I also got a lot of different kava varieties from him that I did not have. I also met a kava grower named Jerry Konanui and he also was very helpful and knowledgeable.
As interest in Kava grew, the Hawaii Awa Council was born. I remember the first meeting because I did not go and I was voted in as a director. I did not mind, I was happy to help. Then about 2 months later I was voted in as vice president of the Hawaii Awa Council. I was able to help a lot more and we got a lot of things done. About 3 months after that I was voted in as President and that is when things really started to move. We had symposiums each year and we would bring in the top people in the kava industry and kava research. Some of them were Dr. Lebot, Patricia Siméoni and Chris Kilham. We also had scientists from the University of Hawaii giving talks in there respective fields. At this time, I wrote a few articles on kava for some magazines. I taught about kava at a Hawaiian Emerson School. Since my kava farm was going good, I sold fresh kava root to East Earth Herbs and other herb companies.
As president of the Hawaii 'Awa council I was privy to all kinds of kava information and studies. I was very happy because I loved to learn about kava. I grabbed every kava book I could find and I read every study that came out. I wanted to learn all I could about kava and I learned a lot. It was at this time that I started to develop new ways to process kava and I came up with a lot of the processes I use today, including a dry powder using the fresh kava root.
Kava was going real good then and people were stealing the kava from the old wild Kava Stands there were over 100 years old. This was such a problem that entire stands of kava were being stolen and gone forever. Because of this the Hawaii Awa Council started the Awa Task Force. this was made up of kava experts, state botanists, Police, and conservation officers. We started this task force to stop the illegal harvesting of the ancient Hawaiian 'Awa in the state forests and other places. We were able to get funding to buy micro chips and we started documenting where the 'Awa was and then put microchips in the 'Awa so we could track the kava if it was stolen. This helped a lot but the success was a bit too late for a lot of kava in the wild. We lost quite a few Kava patches. There was even one case where the thieves stealing the kava used a bulldozer to make a road to get to the kava.
The Liver Scare
People like Ed, Jerry, and I replanted kava in these areas so we could keep the Hawaiian kava growing in the wild. We also kept a collection of all the known Hawaiian kava so that we would always have them. We are always on the look out for un discovered Hawaiian 'Awa. Not too long after the theft of the Hawaiian kava stopped, the kava industry took a nose dive. This was due to to the unsubstantiated reports of liver problems with kava. We know that kava done the traditional way does not cause liver problems but we discovered that there were some problems that could have been contributing factors. For example, during the kava boom there was such a demand for kava that some kava producing nations were adding stalks, stems, and leaves and even things like saw dust so they could bulk up the kava to make more money. This is a problem because these parts of the kava plant were never used in the traditional drink. Ethanol extraction was another problem because this increases the amount the amounts of FKA and FKB that are extracted. The problem is that we still do not know for a fact what caused the liver problems but we do know a lot more than we did. We know that daily drinkers should drink Noble and stay away from Tudei. We just need to remember to stay with the traditional way of drinking kava as much as possible. As I have lectured to everyone for many years, “Let’s all drink Kava safely the way the Islanders did for thousands fo years”.
Now today, we see we have a lot more information on kava and how to use it safely and we are seeing a come back for kava. The damage done by the liver scare has been done but the kava industry has comeback, not fully but it is well on it's way. Hawaii is also seeing a comeback for kava farmers. I have the largest kava farm in Hawaii. The farm grows every time I harvest a kava plant because I also harvest cuttings. I have had numerous inquires for kava cuttings. Right now, there is a shortage of large amounts of kava cuttings so that means that there will be a boom of Hawaiian kava in 3 or 4 years. I hope you all enjoyed this issue of the newsletter. I could keep talking about kava but I will stop there for now. Till next time, aloha nui loa.