Botanical: Smilax aristolochiaefolia (also known as Smilax medica)
Family: Smilacaceae (smilax/greenbrier) – Liliaceae (lily)
Other common names: Gray Sarsaparilla, Mexican Sarsaparilla, Vera Cruz Sarsaparilla,
Equadorian Sarsaparilla, Shot Bush, Red-bearded Sarsaparilla, Brown Sarsaparilla, Smilax,
Jamaican Sarsaparilla, Honduran Sarsaparilla, Rabbit Root
Sarsaparilla has long been used as a blood purifier and tonic herb that boosts stamina and energy.
Although there is no definitive evidence, many body-builders strongly maintain that Sarsaparilla (or Smilax) helps to build muscle mass, while avoiding the harmful side effects of anabolic steroids. Sarsaparilla is considered a fine herbal tonic, an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and Sarsaparilla may even act as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps this is the reason that the "Good Guys" of the Old West, who disdained whiskey in favor of Sarsaparilla, always seemed to have that extra edge.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Sarsaparilla is a woody, perennial, climbing vine, native to the rain forests of Central and South America, Jamaica and Caribbean regions, and also grows in other temperate zones such as southeast Asia and Australia. The root is long and tuberous and supports a ground-trailing evergreen vine that may reach fifty feet in length with paired tendrils for climbing (often high into the rainforest canopy). It produces small flowers and black, blue or red berry-like fruits, and the fragrance of the root (which has been used for centuries in herbal medicine) is spicy-sweet, and it has a pleasant taste. Before processing, the roots are bitter, sticky and have a strong odor. They are dried and boiled in order to produce the extract In beverages, i.e., Root Beer made from Sarsaparilla roots, it is generally more "birchy" in taste than the extract used in the more popular, commercial brands, and it is also used for its foaming qualities. Sarsaparilla is available in the United Kingdom as a carbonated beverage that has been produced for over 115 years by Britain's "Last Original Temperance Bar," which is noted for being the oldest known producer of the Sarsaparilla drink. Its English name is derived from two Spanish words, sarza or zarza, meaning "bramble" and parilla, meaning "vine." The indigenous tribes of Central and South America used Sarsaparilla for centuries for sexual impotence, rheumatism, skin ailments and as a tonic for physical weakness. New World traders of the 1400s and 1500s soon discovered and adopted the herb and introduced it into European society when a "Smilax" root from Mexico was introduced into European medicine in 1536. Physicians there considered it a fine tonic, blood purifier, diuretic and diaphoretic, as well as a strong remedy for syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Since that time, Sarsaparilla has gained popularity for its medicinal effects, and it became registered as an official herb in the United States Pharmacopœia as a treatment for syphilis from 1820 to 1910. Some of Sarsaparilla's constituents include beta-sitosterol, starch, fatty acids, calcium, cetyl-alcohol, chromium, cobalt, glucose, tin, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, resin, saponin, silicon, sitosterol-d glucoside, vitamins A, C and D, and B-vitamins.
Sarsaparilla is considered to be a fine tonic and blood purifier that is said to attack and neutralize toxins in the blood (including environmental poisons). In addition, the herb's diuretic and diaphoretic qualities also promote urination and sweating; and those actions are believed to further rid the body of toxins through bodily secretions. It may also help to cool the body and break intermittent fevers.
As an herbal antibacterial, Sarsaparilla has been used internally and externally to counteract infections of all kinds. Internally, the herb is said to attack microbial substances in the blood and also counteract urinary tract infections. It was used for centuries as a treatment for syphilis, gonorrhea, and other sexually transmitted diseases, being officially listed in both the United States Pharmacopœia and the United States Dispensatory for those ailments. Externally, it is said to treat psoriasis, leprosy, boils, abscesses, skin diseases, wounds and eczema. Conventional medicine recognized Sarsaparilla's value in treating skin conditions in the 1940s, when The New England Journal of Medicine officially praised it for treating psoriasis.
Sarsaparilla is an herbal anti-inflammatory that is believed to ease rheumatism, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Because of its diuretic properties, the stimulation of urine production increases the excretion of uric acid, which also helps to relieve gout; and although it does not relieve acute cases of gout, its use may prevent attacks when taken over a period of weeks or months.
There is much mystique and controversy surrounding Sarsaparilla's hormonal properties in both men and women. In men, the herb is said to stimulate production of natural hormones (testosterone), which may help to restore both sexual interest and erectile function. This action is different from many other male aphrodisiacs that act by increasing blood to the penis, which also carries the risk of creating high blood pressure. In women, hormonal production is also said to be encouraged, which may not only boost diminished sex drive, but may also help to alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
Bodybuilders claim that the natural steroidal glycosides in Sarsaparilla help to build muscle mass, while avoiding the harmful side effects of anabolic steroids, although there are no clinical results to prove this. Additionally, they maintain that use of the herb boosts energy and stamina, and eases the inflammatory conditions brought about by strenuous exercise.
Sarsaparilla is said to be a fine tonic and "alterative" herb, or agent that may favorably alter an unhealthy condition of the body with the tendency to restore normal bodily function. The herb is also thought to help keep the glandular system in balance.
Sarsaparilla is also commonly used in herbal preparations as a synergist. The saponins have been reported to facilitate the body's absorption of other drugs and phytochemicals, which accounts for its history of use in herbal formulæ as an agent for bioavailability and to enhance the power and effect of other herbs.
Pregnant and nursing women should avoid Sarsaparilla Herbal Supplement. Large amounts of Sarsaparilla (many times the recommended dosage) may cause gastrointestinal irritation, and if that occurs, dosage should be reduced or stopped. People who take bloodthinning medications (Coumadin, etc.) should not use Sarsaparilla, and other prescription medication should not be taken at the same time as Sarsaparilla, because the medicine may be absorbed or excreted more rapidly. According to the German Commission E monograph, Sarsaparilla may cause stomach irritation and temporary kidney irritation. In general, it is recommended that people who take prescription drugs regularly should avoid its use. Men with prostate disorders should not use it, since it may increase testosterone production. Inhaling Sarsaparilla can make asthma worse in asthmatics.