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The Drink of Peace

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 07/08/2014 More stories >>

Dr.
Bittenbender has been studying ‘awa since 1998 and has maintained a kava
variety collection for more than a decade.

If a tempest can be found in a teacup, then H.C. “Skip” Bittenbender is looking for the opposite in an ‘apu, or ‘awa cup. ‘Awa, or kava, is a medicinal plant that has been used for hundreds of years throughout the Pacific to create a drink that can soothe nerves, combat anxiety, and relieve pain, all while keeping the mind clear.

‘Awa’s unique properties are due to kavalactones, a chemical that produces the feeling of calm. Kavalactones are so effective at creating a sense of peace that a number of Pacific Island cultures, including Tonga and Samoa, have made a kava ceremony part of the traditional opening for group meetings to help the discussion stay calm and focused.

Dr.
Bittenbender has been studying ‘awa since 1998 and has maintained a kava
variety collection for more than a decade.

Dr. Bittenbender has been studying ‘awa since 1998 and has maintained a kava variety collection for more than a decade.

A specialist in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences who also works with cacao and coffee, Dr. Bittenbender has been studying ‘awa in his Beverage Crops lab since 1998 and has maintained a kava variety collection at the Waimānalo Research Station for more than a decade. When he returned full-time to specialist duties after serving as CTAHR’s last chair of Horticulture, he wanted to help promote promising crops, and kava had become very popular with the change in laws promoting plants’ health benefits. He’s worked with Hawai‘i ‘awa growers to determine how production practices affect levels of kavalactones. He and Loren Gautz (MBBE) developed a preparation method that increased the extraction of kavalactones in water from 15 to 45%. He’s also a founding member of the ‘Awa Development Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to disseminating scientific and cultural information about this important plant and its uses.

In 2003, Dr. Bittenbender and the Council organized the first Pacific Islands Kava Festival, an annual event still going strong more than 10 years later. This year’s Kava Festival is scheduled for October 4 on the Manoa campus’s McCarthy Mall and will include educational and cultural booths and talks, kava sampling, kava plants, and an ‘apu-making workshop. Dr. Bittenbender says, “It’s a great opportunity to educate a new group of people from Hawai‘i and beyond about an ancient beverage that is at home with 21st-century lifestyles.”

Stress is nothing new, so instead of looking for an app for that, perhaps we should reach for the ‘apu instead.