The History of Kratom in the East and West

January 25, 2020 Articles, Kratom Alkaloids, Kratom Capsules, Kratom Legality, Kratom Products, Kratom Research, Kratom Tea, Kratom Vendors

The Western world’s understanding of the kratom leaf is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean that kratom is anything new. Far from it. The effects of this Ayurvedic herb have been the subject of much reverence in the East for more than 200 years.

To fully appreciate this impressive compound and its many applications we must get back to its roots in Southeast Asia. It is there that the birth of kratom occurred and it’s there that we can see how its value continues to blossom.


Many Americans incorrectly believe that kratom was discovered by a Dutchman which is true…if you operate on a sense of ethnocentricity alone.

Sure, Dutch botanist Pieter Willem Korthals is widely considered to be the first Westerner to study and document kratom after finding it on his travels to Malaysia in the mid-1800s, but that’s like saying a white man invented the marijuana cigarette; it flies in the face of reason.

In truth, kratom had been in use throughout the late-1700s when the locals of Thailand and neighboring countries began experimenting with what would become a rather sacred substance. Such experimentation likely began with a need for sustenance during work hours as many natives were impoverished or underpaid.

Over time the locals came to realize that chewing on kratom leaves offered unique benefits, the full extent of which remains the subject of debate in 2020. Here in the US, the FDA has not approved kratom for medicinal use despite its storied history as a folk medicine.

Back in the day, kratom leaves were used by laborers to reduce fatigue and instill motivation during work shifts. Those toiling in the fields or working on factory lines were accustomed to chewing kratom to mitigate their aches and pains.

Korthals was working for the East India Company, an English organization dealing in the spice trade, when he first encountered the natives of Malaysia chewing on oversize leaves. These curiously aromatic leaves belonged to Mitragyna speciosa, a tall evergreen tree which grew in the wilds of the region.

After seeing the sheer number of individuals using the herb, he documented its prevalence in his journal and sent word to his employers. Soon Westerners would be evaluating kratom for its many peculiar effects.

How peculiar?

Here was a tree that could grow 80 ft tall and it bore leaves whose veins contained dozens of alkaloids and flavonoids. When ingested at low dosages, the plant matter from these trees could, theoretically, induce rejuvenating and stimulating effects while larger dosages could make one sleepy.

This was truly remarkable which is why it continued to capture the attention of those in the West. This was old hat for Easterners who had been treating themselves to the natural allure of kratom for ages.

On an unspecified date in the mid-20th century, French researcher and self-proclaimed psychonaut Claude Rifat would bring the first live kratom plant material back to the States from Thailand. He would subsequently grow a kratom cultivar from seed using these materials.

As a result, you often use the term Rifat Kratom used when discussing so-called Thai strains. That’s because Mr. Rifat’s Mitragyna speciosa cultivar is the basis for all kratom trees grown from seed. The cuttings and seeds of his cultivar were used to produce these trees ever since.


It is impossible to put a date on kratom’s popularity since the question is rather subjective. If we are speaking in universal terms, kratom became popular somewhere in or around the late-1700s or early-1800s.

As I stated earlier, the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree have been in use for centuries. The natives of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Thailand were chewing on them long before Korthals or Rifat came along.

This popularity began to swell to an awesome magnitude by the early-to-mid-20th century, at which point the Thai government feared it would negatively affect the opium trade. In response to the growing embrace of kratom, a plant material that locals could get for free, the Thai government imposed a ban on the plant.

Kratom Act 2486 was passed in 1943, effectively outlawing the planting of kratom trees and the sale of the same. This law has remained in effect over the ensuing years with activists from all over the globe working tirelessly to get the ban lifted.


No medical claims can be made kratom use, nor am I suggesting that users consider it as anything other than a unique plant with a powerful aroma. That being said, countless individuals have spoken of the relief they received after using kratom.

For decades, Americans have been brewing kratom tea or chewing on kratom leaves because they firmly believe that doing so eases their inflammation and improves their mood. Many athletes and physical active persons have added kratom to their pre-workout routine, alleging that it provides clean energy and heightened endurance.

Today we are told that there is inconclusive clinical evidence to support the notion that kratom is beneficial in these areas. But that hasn’t stopped a number of universities and other medical institutions from studying the many potential applications of kratom.

Some have suggested that kratom contains alkaloids that are antimalarial, antibacterial, antitussive and palliative in nature. These claims have been refuted by government institutions and have been rebutted by select medical authorities who insist that the dangers of kratom far outweigh any purported health advantages.


If I’m being honest, I am not nearly as brave as the natives of Southeast Asia. Having smelled kratom powder and kratom capsules, I don’t see myself chewing on the raw leaves of kratom any time soon. I don’t care what they may or may not do for me, I’m just not a fan of dry heaving.

Kratom is strong, not just in its effects but especially in its fragrance. The scent of a fresh kratom grind can be overpowering and often very bitter in taste. For this reason, I always recommend that first-time users start a microdose by using kratom capsules.

Taking kratom capsules won’t completely eliminate the powerful smell of kratom leaf, but it will dull the flavor and enable you to choke the stuff down without the taste lingering.

If you’re like my wife and you hate taking pills then I highly recommend researching different kratom drink recipes. There are tons of suggestions on platforms like Reddit and other kratom forum communities.

Once you’ve acclimated to the odor of kratom then you’ll be ready to graduate to a fine cup of traditional kratom tea. This is the simplest and easiest way to enjoy kratom powder without gagging.

Don’t be fooled by community members who tell you to use the toss ‘n wash method (shoving a spoon of kratom powder into your mouth and chasing it with water). This will invariably result in a clump of power sticking to the roof of your mouth which is never pleasant and can be a choking hazard.

If you’ve never used kratom before, here is a brief dosage guide which should demonstrate how much kratom powder to use when brewing your tea.

First-timer Micro—1-1.5 grams

Low—2-4 grams

Moderate—4.5-6 grams

High—6-8 grams

You make multiple doses of kratom tea in one shot by following these fundamental steps:

  • Measure out two ounces of crushed or micronized kratom powder (You will need a measuring spoon and digital scale)
  • Place the crushed leaf or microgrind into a pot, adding a quart of water
  • Place pot of water on stove and simmer for 12-15 minutes
  • Place strainer over an appropriately-sized bowl
  • Dump pot of kratom tea water into a strainer and let it strain into bowl
  • Return damp plant matter to pot and add additional quart of water
  • Strain second pot of kratom tea water
  • Discard plant matter
  • Boil kratom tea water until two quarts are reduced to one
  • Serve in tea cup with honey and lemon juice as desired


This has been a broad overview of the existing history of kratom in both the East and the West. However, it is not a complete history as many developments have taken place over the past few decades.

Kratom has come under intense scrutiny here in the United States. This has been due, in part, to the shoddy business practices of select kratom vendors and a short-lived Salmonella outbreak which led to negative attention.

That hasn’t quelled the public’s interest in kratom, nor has it abated the enduring love the community has for this amazing plant. As I just said, this is a brief history of kratom, but kratom’s history is far from over. As we enter this new year there is no telling what the future has in store for this incredible Ayurvedic herb.

Bob Freville
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