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A Brief History of Kratom And Its Uses

We spend a lot of time talking about the science of and alkaloids in kratom, current legislation and the exciting possibilities that researchers are discovering with kratom extract. It’s kind of our job to keep everyone up-to-date and our mission to inform our customers, but we noticed that we’ve never really discussed how things came to be this way.  

You may already know that kratom is native to Southeast Asia and that it’s been used in many ways by different cultures for centuries, but we’re going to go just a little further. History can be boring, but bear with us; we wouldn’t be writing about this if we didn’t think that it wasn’t relevant. (FYI, if you’re looking for the short version, check out this article from the Net News Ledger.) 

The Man, The Myth, The Legend of Kratom 

When you’re searching for places to buy kratom online, it doesn’t take very long to come across the name Pieter Korthals. This guy was so important to our current understanding of kratom that you’ll occasionally see part of his name attached to the scientific name for the kratom tree. Usually, it looks something like M. speciosa Korth.   

 So, Mr. KorthalsStand-up guy. Discovered a whole bunch of plants in the southeast Asian tropics that were previously unknown to western civilization. Born in Amsterdam in 1807, Korthals was botanist by training, and thank goodness for that. Korthals was the first person to classify M. speciosa (though he originally called it Stephegyne speciosa) and helped to cement its place in the plant kingdom.  

 When kratom was first described in 1839, organic chemistry wasn’t so much a distinct branch of chemistry as it was a series of accidents that led to the invention of soap and fabric dye. Without Korthals mastery of botany, the special properties of the alkaloids in kratom may never have been known to the wider world. But what was a Dutch botanist doing in Southeast Asia to begin with? 

How the Dutch Discovered Kratom 

Look, we don’t really have time to dissect the complex history of Southeast Asian trade, colonization, and the rise and fall of the Dutch East India Company (akaVereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in the original Dutch). The shortest version of that story ever told is that the VOC was a megacorporation founded in the year 1600 (for reals) that was around for almost two centuries. They traded, they fought, they explored, yada yada yada. 

After the VOC went broke and a bunch of other countries colonized parts of Southeast Asia, most of the formerly Dutch territory was captured by the British, who then gave it back to the Netherlands in 1814 as a condition of the Treaty of Paris. The territory was referred to as the Dutch East Indies, and the administrative body as the Dutch East Indies Service.  

Map of Southeast Asian Colonies

Source:Rumilo Santiago – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52748160 

Like the VOC, the Dutch East Indies Service had its flaws, but it did set the stage for scientific and cultural exchanges of information that introduced previously unknown cultures and the traditional uses of kratom to the wider world. One of the players on that stage was the abovementioned Pieter Korthalswho rose through the ranks to become the official botanist of the Dutch East Indies Service. 

Botany for the Win!

While Korthals knew he’d found something unique in kratom, he couldn’t possibly understand the cultural significance of the new (to him) species. Kratom was a part of many cultures all across Southeast Asia for centuries before even Korthals came along. Much of the cultural significance of kratom is described in this scientific paper (which you can find in our Expert Research section here). Here’s a quick summary: 

This herbal plant has been used for millennia (a) as a stimulant; (b) as a remedy in traditional medicine; and (c) in social context… Historically, manual labourers (e.g., fisherman, farmers, and rubber-tappers) in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand commonly used ketum [sic] leaves to improve their work productivity under the sweltering sun and to relieve fatigue. Rural folk have traditionally ingested ketum [sic] leaves to self-treat common medical problems (e.g., diabetes, diarrhoea, fever, and pain) and used it as a wound poulticeKetum [sic] was also used as an opium substitute in Malaya during opium scarcity. It is still popularly consumed in Asian communities during social gatherings in the village. 

You may have noticed that a scientific paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomedical Research International appears to constantly misspell kratom. In fact, across the entire natural habitat of M. speciosait is only referred to as “kratom” in Thailand, whereas “ketum” seems to be the preferred moniker in most of the rest of the region. The table below neatly breaks down the common name for kratom by country.  

Table of Common Names by Country

Source: Kratom and Other Mitragynines: The Chemistry and Pharmacology of Opioids from a Non-Opium Source. United Kingdom, CRC Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4822-2519-8

How Kratom Changed the World

We know it’s a bold thing to say, but kratom holds so much promise now and in the future. Historically, kratom leaves were used medicinally and in social settings. Kratom extracts were used just as often as kratom leaves; the uses and methods differed from one culture to the next. Regardless of the preparation or cultural differences, kratom’s importance to Southeast Asia can’t be underestimated.

Like other regional or local traditions, it took time for the rest of the world to be introduced to kratom. Once everyone found out, the cat was out of the bag. Companies began farming kratom crops, using modern techniques to cultivate healthier trees and adjust for a desired mitragynine profile. The food processing industries ramped up efforts to find the best way to preserve the make-up of raw leaves when creating powdered kratom, and shipments began to fly.

Why bother telling you all of this? Well, our mission at Pop Kratom is to bring you the best products on the market at the lowest prices possible. We can’t do that if we don’t have a thorough understanding of our product and our vendors, and we believe that empowering our customers with what we’ve learned enables everyone to choose the right products.

We know that not everyone’s going to master organic chemistry to learn how to balance a mitragynine profile or even to name all the alkaloids in kratom. What we do know is that we stand behind our products and we want you to be happy with your purchase. When you’re looking to buy kratom online, look no further than Pop Kratom. Check out our full line of kratom extracts, kratom capsules, and kratom powders and be confident that you’re getting the best products on the market. Checking out is hassle free- we accept all major credits and your order ships quickly from our US-based warehouse. Shop kratom now!

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