Dioscorides and Theophrastus already knew the sarsaparilla plant, and Laguna and Mattioli also mentioned it. However, it only became popular when Spaniards applied its name to some American species of the genus smilax (in the 18th century). American natives used these sarsaparillas as depuratives, and since they allegedly had healing properties for syphilis, they were widely welcomed but without success in curing this disease.
Sarsaparilla Plant Scientific Facts
- SCIENTIFIC NAME: Smilax aspera L.
- OTHER NAMES: Honduras sarsaparilla, red sarsaparilla, Spanish sarsaparilla.
- FRENCH: Salsepareilla.
- SPANISH: Zarzaparrilla.
- ENVIRONMENT: Dry forests in Central and South America and southern Europe.
- DESCRIPTION: The thorny shrub of the Liliaceae family climbs onto trees up to 40 m high. It has large, spiked, heart-shaped leaves, white flowers, and red or blackish fruits.
Healing Properties and Uses
The Sarsaparilla plant contains saponins glycosides, resin, and essential oil, which give it diuretic, sudorific, depurative, appetizer, and stimulating properties. It promotes the elimination of urea, uric acid, and other organic waste and decreases cholesterol in the blood. It is employed in the following cases:
- Rheumatism, arthritis, gout.
- Kidney conditions: renal calculi, nephritis, renal insufficiency.
- Fever diseases: influenza, tropical fever, etc.
- Lack of appetite, poor digestion.
- Skin conditions: acne and eczema.
In treating syphilis, it may have some properties but only as a compliment of the specific treatment because of its depurative properties.
How to use Sarsaparilla
- Infusion with 30-40 grams of ground rhizome or root per liter of water. Drink from three to five cups daily before meals.
Other Sarsaparilla Species
As well as the sarsaparilla of the Aspera (Smilax aspera L.) species which grows in Europe. There are other smilax species spread all over America and Southern Europe, among which the most outstanding are:
- Mexican sarsaparilla. (Smilax Aristolochiafolia Miller.), As its name says, it grows mainly in Mexico, especially in the Veracruz area.
- Honduras sarsaparilla. (Smilax regelii Killip.-Morton), Which is primarily found in Central America and the West Indies.
- Jamaican sarsaparilla. (Smilax ornate Lam.), which also grows in Central America and the West Indies.
- Lisbon sarsaparilla. (Smilax spruceana A. D. C.) Also called para sarsaparilla, which grows in Brazil.
- Phillipines sarsaparilla. (Smilax leucophylla Blume), Which is cultivated in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The composition and properties of all these species of the genus Smilax are pretty similar. Several species of the genus Smilax are pretty identical. There are several species of the aforementioned botanical genus whose leaves can be consumed as vegetables, and still others whose roots and rhizome are eaten as food.
American sarsaparilla species came into fashion in Europe in the 17th century because they were supposed to have the ability to cure syphilis.
Sarsaparilla has been used as a sparkling substance in mixed soft drinks due to the properties of the saponins it contains.
WARNING! When taken in high doses, it can produce nausea and vomiting. The use of sarsaparilla berries is advised against. Never mistake these berries with those of the ivy or black briony, which are highly poisonous.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 592, 593. Print.[Sarsaparilla plant]