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.
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.
Bittenbender has been studying ‘awa since 1998 and has maintained a kava
variety collection for more than a decade.
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
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.”
is nothing new, so instead of looking for an app for that, perhaps we should
reach for the ‘apu instead.