(PIPER METHYSTICUM) Kava is a tall shrub in the pepper family that grows in the Pacific islands. Pacific Islanders have traditionally used kava in ceremonies to bring about a state of relaxation and altered consciousness. The name kava means “bitter” in the Tongan language. Besides ceremonial use, people use kava to reduce anxiety and insomnia. Kava kava contains substances called kavapyrones. They act much like alcohol on your brain, making you feel calm, relaxed, and happy. The plant is also thought to relieve pain, prevent seizures, and relax muscles. Other healing properties of kava are: Menstrual pain, insomnia, depression, mental focus.