Sarsaparilla Root and Herb Information
Scientific Name(S): Smilax species including Smilax aristolochiifolia Mill. (Mexican sarsaparilla), S. officinalis Kunth (Honduras sarsaparilla), Smilax regelii Killip et Morton (Honduras, Jamaican sarsaparilla), Smilax febrifuga (Ecuadorian sarsaparilla), Smilax sarsaparilla, Smilax ornata. Family: Liliaceae.
Common Name(S): Sarsaparilla, smilax, smilace, sarsa, khao yen
Sarsaparilla is also known by the names Shot Bush, Small Spikenard, Wild Licorice, Black Creeper, and Rabbit Root. Sarsaparilla is a tropical American perennial plant. Various species are also found in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. It is also found throughout India and in the Himalayas. Sarsaparilla known as "Jamaican Sarsaparilla" is considered the best, with Honduran and Mexican close behind. This plant derived its name from being exported to Europe through Jamaica. The word Sarsaparilla comes from the Spanish "Sarza", meaning a bramble, and "parilla", a vine, referring to the thorny stems of the plant. Its roots, which are used in herbology, burrow deeply into the ground, while its vines are avid climbers.
Many different species are called by the general name sarsaparilla. Various species are found in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. The root is used in herbal medicine.
Uses of Sarsaparilla:
Sarsaparilla is a natural herb that has been used by many individuals in connection with liver disease and syphilis. However, it is most commonly used in connection with eczema, psoriasis, and other skin disorders.
Unverified uses in Asian medicine include epilepsy, malignant ulcers, psoriasis, syphilis, and tuberculosis.
Side Effects of Sarsaparilla:
According to the German Commission E monograph, sarsaparilla may cause stomach irritation and temporary kidney irritation.
Toxicology: No major contraindications, warnings, or toxicity data have been documented with sarsaparilla use. No known probelms have been seen regarding its use in pregnancy or lactation either; however, excessive ingestion should be avoided. In unusually high doses, the saponins present in the plant could possibly be harmful, resulting in GI irriation. The fact that sarsaparilla binds bacterial endotoxins in the gut, making them unabsorbable, greatly reduces stress on the liver and other organs. Sarsaparilla has inhibited induced hepatocellular damage in rats, without any significant adverse reactions reported.
One report describing occupational asthma caused by sarsaparilla root dust exists in the literature.
Summary: Sarsaparilla root has been used for many centuries and by many cultures for syphilis, inflammatory disorders, digestive problems, and skin diseases. The plant is rich in saponins, which may bind to endotoxins to exert its "blood purifying" and other related effects. The steroid structures present in sarsaparilla have been erroneously advertised as muscle bulk and performance enhancers, but no research thus far has validated these claims. Related species to sarsaparilla have their own documented effects as well. No major toxicity problems have been associated with the plant. Excessive dosing may cause gastric irritation.
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