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All About Kratom’s Origins: Who First Discovered Kratom?

The ripe leaves of a Kratom plant

One of the most often asked Kratom facts is who is responsible for discovering it. While it’s easier to find info about Kratom now, that’s because the internet makes it easier. When it was first discovered, Kratom offered the west a glimpse of an entirely new ethnobotanical with exciting properties. Kratom didn’t shake the foundation of contemporary medicine when it was first discovered, but it’s slowly built to make a large impact.

What We Know About Kratom’s Beginnings

So, when we talk about Kratom being discovered, we mean that one of the more important Kratom facts is that by the time Europe and the Americas learned of Kratom, it had already been used for centuries by the indigenous people throughout Southeast Asia. This evergreen relative of the coffee plant grows particularly well in the warm, wet tropical environment found in the jungles and forests of the area. Largely created from volcanic eruptions and geologic upheavals, the soil of these areas is rich in minerals that provide unique nutrient blends and have an acidic nature. This nature encourages the growth of alkaline compounds in many of the area plants, including the two primary active ingredients of Kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.

The concentration of these two compounds is among the most important Kratom facts to consumers because it delineates the differences in Kratom strains. As the plant moves through maturity, the leaves shift in color from an almost translucent white through an emerald green to a dark red hue. These colors, when combined with the country of origin—which offers a glimpse of the Kratom’s nutrients as it grows—let consumers know about Kratom’s anticipated properties and provides a handy nomenclature for shopping, such as “red vein Thai Kratom.”

For generations before its “discovery,” Kratom had a vital role in the lives and cultures of villagers who lived in these tropical jungle paradises. With medicine commonly being practiced by local village elders—just as it still is today in some more remote areas—the pharmaceutical drugs and philters that were already defining healthcare in Europe were out of reach geographically and financially. Kratom was respected for its ability to relieve stress, promote energy, and improve focus. These properties were regarded as established Kratom facts by a populace with no other therapeutic recourse.

A ship similar to the large sailing vessels used by the Dutch East Indies Service

The West’s Introduction to Kratom

The nineteenth-century—much as the eighteenth and seventeenth before it—was marked by a drive among European powers to build worldwide empires through colonization. The Dutch East India Service was made up of the former commercial colonies of the Dutch East India Companies, now nationalized under the control of the Netherlands. Pieter Willem Korthals, the company’s official botanist from 1831 to 1836, is generally recognized by Kratom facts as the first Western authority to study and document observations about the Kratom plant.

Korthals named the Kratom plant Mitragyna speciosa. It is generally believed that this is due to the resemblance of ripe Kratom leaves to a bishop’s “miter”; however, some have speculated it may be a reference to the plant’s myriad of purported uses by natives, reminding him of the Mithraic cults which enjoyed a popular renaissance among some areas of Europe at the time. While he did not record his reason for the name, he recorded other Kratom facts based on his observations which were confirmed and built upon by British surgeon, George Darby Haviland.

America’s Kratom “Discovery”

While it may have been known in the West, the Americas knew nothing about Kratom. The spread of public awareness about Kratom came about in the wake of the Vietnam War. Operating “in-country” against Viet Cong troops, Americans learned about Kratom from the indigenous people. Its reputation for increasing alertness and helping people endure made it popular with U.S. GIs who found themselves in a dangerous, hostile jungle environment they were ill-prepared for. They quickly found that their experiences mirrored the Kratom facts as related by friendly guides and villagers.

Returning home after the war, some returned with an existing Kratom supply while others went about creating channels that could import Kratom from Southeast Asian countries friendly to the United States. It garnered a small but loyal fan base that went largely unnoticed by regulators and the media. This likely would have continued at a slower pace were it not for rising healthcare costs in America.

As costs rose, consumers began to seek out more natural remedies. As an ethnobotanical with generations of native use and decades of experience from passionate U.S. Kratom advocates more than willing to talk about the Kratom facts they knew, it was singularly poised to attract attention. For those who could not afford the high doctor’s bills and medication costs of the American industrial-health complex, it seemed like a potential solution.

While this drew public attention, it also increased scrutiny and led to increased regulations. In response, American Kratom advocates are coming to the rescue by contacting their representatives, leading grassroots efforts to make Kratom facts available to the public, and pushing for legislation, such as the American Kratom Association’s Kratom Consumer Protection Act.

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