Smilax officinalis-Sarsaparilla

Family: Liliaceae

Other names: Black Creeper, Sariva, Kalisar, Dudhilata, Sugandhi, Red Sarsaparilla, Tu Fu Ling, Dwipautra, S. mauritanica, S. nigra.

Habitat: The plants are climbing vines native to tropical America and the West Indies.

Collection: The roots and rhizome can be unearthed throughout the year.

Sarsaparilla is a medicinal herb that came to us from the Americas. The root is alterative, demulcent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and tonic. This is one of the best depurative medicines and is used as a spring time tonic and general body cleanser, usually with woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). The root has all the medicinal virtues of the widely used tropical herb sarsaparilla, though to a lesser degree. It is often used as an adulterant to that plant. The ripe fruits are squeezed and applied to the skin in the treatment of scabies. It is widely used to treat scaly skin conditions and psoriatic arthritis.

By tato grasso (Own work (personal work)) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Description Sarsaparilla:

Smilax aspera; Sarsaparilla, is an evergreen Climber growing to 3 m (9ft 10in).
It is hardy to zone 9. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Aug to September. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.


Cultivation of Sarsaparilla:

Succeeds in most soils in sun or semi-shade. A very ornamental plant, it is only hardy in the mildest areas of Britain, tolerating temperatures down to about -10°c. The flowers have a heavy sweet perfume. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.

Propagation of Sarsaparilla:

Seed – sow March in a warm greenhouse. This note probably refers to the tropical members of the genus, seeds of plants from cooler areas seem to require a period of cold stratification, some species taking 2 or more years to germinate. We sow the seed of temperate species in a cold frame as soon as we receive it, and would sow the seed as soon as it is ripe if we could obtain it then. When the seedlings eventually germinate, prick them out into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first year, though we normally grow them on in pots for 2 years. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. Division in early spring as new growth begins. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer. Cuttings of half-ripe shoots, July in a frame.

Culinary uses of Sarsaparilla:

Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root.
Edible Uses: Drink.

Young shoots – raw or cooked as a vegetable. They can be cooked and used as an asparagus substitute. The tendrils are also eaten. The plant is an ingredient of soft drinks.

Sarsaparilla_Smilax_officinalis_SmilaxMedicinal uses of Sarsaparilla:

Actions: Alterative, anti-rheumatic, diuretic, diaphoretic.

Indications: Sarsaparilla is a widely applicable alterative. It may be used to aid proper functioning of the body as a whole and in the correction of such diffuse systemic problems as skin and rheumatic conditions. It is particularly useful in scaling skin conditions such as psoriasis,especially where there is much irritation. As part of a wider treatment for chronic rheumatism it should be considered and is especially useful for rheumatoid arthritis. It has been shown that Sarsaparilla contains constituents with properties that aid testosterone activity in the body.

Ellingwood recommends it for the following patholgies: scrophula, secondary syphillis, cutaneous disease, rheumatic and gouty conditions.

King’s Dispensatory suggests it for these conditions: Syphilis,herpes, rheumatic affections, dropsy, gonorrhoeal rheumatism, syphilitic sore throats, chronic hepatic disorders.

Combinations: For psoriasis it will combine well with Burdock, Yellow Dock and Cleavers.

Preparations & Dosage of Sarsaparilla:

Decoction: pour 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the root in a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Other uses of Sarsaparilla:

Dye,  Hedge,  

A red dye is obtained from the ripe tendrils. The plant is often grown as an impenetrable hedge in warmer countries than Britain.

my_sarsaparilla_ fairyEsoteric uses of Sarsaparilla:

Sexual vitality, health, love and money. Mix with sandalwood and cinnamon and sprinkle around home or business to draw money. Alleged to prolong life, hinder premature aging, excite passions, and improve virility when worn or carried.

The Chemistry:


* Saponins, based on the aglycones sarsapogenin andsmilagenin; the major one being parillin (=sarsaponin), with smilasaponin(=smilacin) and sarsaparilloside

* [[beta]]-sitosterol, stigmasterol and their glucosides.

Citations from the Medline database for the genus Smilax

SarsaparillaGiachetti D Taddei I Taddei E Effects of Smilax macrophylla Vers. in normal or hyperuricemic andhyperuricosuric rats.

Pharmacol Res Commun (1988 Dec) 20 Suppl 5:59-62Thurman FMThe treatment of psoriasis with Sarsaparilla compound.

NEJM 227:128-33, 1942Wang WH [Antagonistic effect of Smilax sp. on gossypol toxicity (author’stransl)]

Chung Yao Tung Pao (1982 Jan) 7(1):32-4

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