The best books about kava (piper methysticum)

Why am I passionate about this?

I first tasted kava in the colonial New Hebrides (Vanuatu today) in early 1978. Since then, I have returned to Vanuatu many times to carry out ethnographic and linguistic research on Tanna Island on a range of issues. Although firmly incorporated within global systems since explorer James Cook visited in 1774, Islanders have fiercely maintained their island culture and languages. In addition to kava and other traditional drug substances, I have published books and articles about local knowledge systems, “cargo cults,” contemporary chiefs, Islander experience in the Pacific War, urban migration, and early Pacific photography. Currently, I am Kendall Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Tulsa. 


I wrote...

Tanna Times: Islanders in the World

By Lamont Lindstrom,

Book cover of Tanna Times: Islanders in the World

What is my book about?

Drawing on forty years of fieldwork in Vanuatu, Lamont Lindstrom offers rich insights into the culture of Tanna, including kava’s fundamental significance on this island. Each chapter opens with a telling life story that contextualizes that biography with pertinent ethnographic explanation and historical background. Since 1774, Tanna Islanders have participated in events that have captured global anthropological and popular attention. They have travelled widely and entertained many visitors. Yet, because of their experience abroad, Islanders fiercely protect their cultural identity and continue to maintain resilient bonds with their Tanna homes.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Kava: The Pacific Elixir: The Definitive Guide to Its Ethnobotany, History, and Chemistry

Lamont Lindstrom Why did I love this book?

This is the kava Bible. Kava expert Vincent Lebot shares his comparative analysis of 247 kava cultivars collected from 55 Pacific islands to identify their morphological, chemical, and genetic characteristics—including the six major kavalactones responsible for kava’s physiological effects. Lebot’s research pinpointed kava’s origins in northern Vanuatu as a domesticated form of “wild kava” (Piper wichmannii). The book provides ethnographic information about the religious and social significance of kava across the Pacific, including origin myths, ceremonial and recreation uses, its ethnomedical applications, and growing importance as a cash crop. The authors predicted, successfully, that kava will become the next world drug.

By Vincent Lebot, Mark Merlin, Lamont Lindstrom

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kava as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

• The most comprehensive book ever written on nature's most effective stress-relieving plant.

• First paperback edition of the classic comprehensive text originally published by Yale University Press.

This complete guide to kava summarizes the literature and research on a plant that is now considered comparable or superior to anti-stress prescription drugs, and describes its use in the religious, political, and economic life of the Pacific islands for centuries. Beyond its soporific qualities kava is also used throughout the the Pacific as an analgesic, a diuretic, and an anesthetic. There is even evidence suggesting it is effective in the treatment…


Book cover of Buveurs de Kava

Lamont Lindstrom Why did I love this book?

For those who read French, Vincent Lebot and geographer wife Patricia Siméoni offer a “coffee table” kava compendium filled with beautiful historic and contemporary illustrations—both classic kava engravings and contemporary photographs. Although focused on the origins and use of kava in Vanuatu, the authors range widely and discuss kava production and consumption across the Pacific. Appendices gather all known kava origin myths and stories, and island names for kava bowls, drinking cups, filters, and other preparation equipment. Maps depict kava’s historical and contemporary range, and the authors discuss cultivation techniques within suitable ecosystems. They advocate that Pacific Islanders concentrate on marketing the “noble varieties” of the plant, grown in its traditional terroir, along the lines of high-quality French wine. 

By Patricia Siméoni, Vincent Lebot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Buveurs de Kava as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Le kava est un trait culturel majeur du Pacifique insulaire dans la mesure où il le distingue du reste du monde. Il existe là et nulle part ailleurs. Il est le dénominateur commun aux Mélanésiens, Polynésiens et Micronésiens qui le cultivent, le transforment et le boivent selon leurs préférences culturelles. Cette plante emblématique d’une vaste zone géographique est aussi l'expression d'identités locales diverses. Le kava est une porte d'entrée de choix pour aborder la complexité des îles du grand océan, il est aussi au coeur de l'évolution de ses sociétés. Tant pour son rôle dans l'histoire des îles du Pacifique…


Book cover of The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia

Lamont Lindstrom Why did I love this book?

Anthropologist Ron Brunton delves back into 19th-century theory that proposed two waves of Pacific immigrants, one that chewed betelnut (Areca catechu kernels mixed with Piper betle vine and lime), and the other that preferred kava. He wonders why kava is mostly absent in the Solomon Islands despite its presence in scattered communities in New Guinea to the west, and then in Vanuatu, Fiji, and much of Polynesia to the east. He proposes that kava originated in the Bismarck Archipelago and that Solomon Islanders subsequently abandoned kava consumption, perhaps as an element of some religious innovation. We now know that kava originated in northern Vanuatu and found its way back west into New Guinea, north to Micronesian Pohnpei and Kosrae, and east to Fiji and much of Polynesia. Brunton, though, offers good ethnographic information about kava’s place in Pacific cultures, including on Tanna.

By Ron Brunton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Abandoned Narcotic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ron Brunton revives a problem posed by the great anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers in History of Melanesian Society (1914): how to explain the strange geographical distribution of kava, a narcotic drink once widely consumed by south-west Pacific islanders. Rivers believed that it was abandoned by many people even before European contact in favour of another drug, betel, drawing his speculations from the ideas of the diffusionist school of anthropology. However, Dr Brunton disagrees. Taking the varying fortunes of kava on the island of Tanna, Vanauta, as his starting point, he suggests that kava's abandonment can best be explained in…


Book cover of Kava: Medicine Hunting in Paradise: The Pursuit of a Natural Alternative to Anti-Anxiety Drugs and Sleeping Pills

Lamont Lindstrom Why did I love this book?

Kilham was an early promoter of kava as an herbal treatment for anxiety and other disorders. Kava, in fact, has proven therapeutic benefits and, along with anxiety and insomnia, treats depression, stress, muscle pain, urinary problems, and much more. It also has an emotional leveling effect, promoting temporary feelings of happiness and peace. Kilham brings readers along to Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands as he investigated kava’s local uses and its potential for consumers everywhere. Readers will appreciate the description of his first kava taste of kava that sparked his passionate promotion of the plant.

By Christopher S. Kilham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kava as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kava, Piper Methysticum, is the most effective relaxing and stress-relieving plant in all of nature. This book is the tale of plant researcher Chris Kilham's investigations into this plant and his far-ranging explorations deep in the South Pacific in search of a source of kava. Kilham takes the reader on an adventurous journey through the mystical native legends, outlandish history, and exciting science surrounding this potent plant. A story replete with pulpit-pounding missionaries, kava-drinking natives, sorcerers, a mysterious Tahitian prince, and the author's own humorous outlook amidst difficult and perilous circumstances, Kava is a must-read for those who love tales…


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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