Kava is both a stimulant and a relaxant. It is psychoactive and has some anaesthetic properties. If you touch the raw root to your lips you will feel a tingling and a numbing. It may cause a mild mood elevation (which is fine) but it also may cause "dissociative" reactions. For this reason it should only be used by "well-grounded" persons. It should be avoided by those who are "ungrounded", "hyper", or who have a shaky sense of self. It is not for space cases!
How to take Kava: Kava is one of the few herbs I would recommend taken dried (dried root, powder, or capsules) because, one: I know it works dried, and two: the tincture tastes terrible.
The powder (or dried root) can be prepared as a herbal infusion. 1/4 to 1 teaspoon once a day. (Pour boiling water onto 1/4 to 1 tsp. of the powdered root in a mug: cover and steep for 15 minutes: then strain.)
Kava can also be taken as capsules. I have found that "Swiss Herbal" capsules effective (though they do tend to "repeat", whereas the herbal infusion of the root/powder does not "repeat"). One or two capsules per day is a reasonable dose.
note: not all brands of capsules are effective.
While I believe that Kava to be a mild and safe herb, I have seen claims that it has toxic side-effects. The jury is still out on its long term safety so some caution and awareness of possible risk is necessary. If you are suffering from anxiety, however, you may wish to take this small risk. It is certainly a viable alternative to pharmacological drug treatment. (In Fiji it is used regularly in high doses with no apparent harm.)
I have taken Kava for some time now. I take it as a herbal infusion, mixed with Motherwort, in the morning. The first couple of times I took Kava I felt "stoned". Then for the first two weeks I felt mildly "spaced" - a "dissociative experience". Because of this "spaciness" I did not feel confident driving any great distance. However, after using the herb for about three weeks I no longer felt any disturbance of consciousness though I have continued to experience a mild amelioration of mood - a diminished level of anxiety. So, with these cautions - that it is only for those with a well grounded sense of self - I recommend Kava as a save and gentle "anxiolytic".
More about Kava: In North America many people are calling this herb Kava kava. In Fiji it is Kava.
Kava may also be used as a urinary herb.