Kava is a tropical evergreen shrub belonging to the pepper family (Piperaceae). It is thought to be most likely domesticated from its wild variant the Piper wichmanii. Kava was not brought into Melanesia, but rather "discovered" and domesticated, a process which might have helped in creating the 80 or more varieties present in Vanuatu. Some of these varieties of kava then found their way eastward to Polynesia and westward/northward to Papua New Guinea and Micronesia through migration and trade.

Pacific Islanders have consumed it for centuries for both their ceremonial purposes, and as a social libation due to its ability to produce relaxing, sedative, and euphoric effects.
The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones.