What a day in the woods yesterday. Magnificent. SOOOO much blooming. The air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle and they, along with all the Russian and Autumn Olive, were setting the forest alive with blazes of white.
The star of the day as far as I was concerned: Mr. Sarsaparilla. I’ve got a thing abourt this plant and not quite sure why. Brought three roots home to experiment with…so the mad herbalist may not be here tomorrow.
There’s an herbal remedy that’s been used by native populations in Central and South America for thousands for years, shown to help relieve a wide range of problems from skin dermatitis to coughs. Starting in around the 1950s, European physicians considered sarsaparilla root a “tonic, blood purifier, diuretic and sweat promoter” that could help treat serious, even life-threatening infections, such as leprosy or cancer.
Today, sarsaparilla products go by many different names depending on exactly which roots or plants are used to make the product, how they’re prepared, and what part of the world they come from. Other common names for sarsaparilla include Smilax, Honduran sarsaparilla, Jamaican sarsaparilla and zarzaparilla. While it’s no longer used to treat skin infections from tropical bugs, leprosy or syphilis, sarsaparilla can commonly still be found in herbal preparations for balancing hormones, lowering fluid retention and improving overall immune function.
Sarsaparilla Nutrition Facts
What is sarsaparilla exactly? Sarsaparilla (which has the species names Smilax Ornata, Smilax regelii or Smilax officinalis) is technically a perennial vine that grows in warm temperatures, such as those in the southern most states of the U.S. or Central and South America. The plant is a member of the Liliaceae (lily) group of vines in the plant family called Smilacaceae, which includes over 300 different plant species. (1)
Sarsaparilla vines can grow very long (sometimes up to eight feet), have starchy, edible roots, and produce small berries that are edible for both humans and animals, especially birds. Although the roots are much more often used to make remedies today than the berries are, the berries and leaves can also be consumed for their benefits, effects and mild taste.
In fact, in the the past, sarsaparilla plants, roots, vines and berries were all used in various ways to create beverages, fermented snacks and other treats that were enjoyed in places like India and Latin America. Sarsaparilla is actually the name for a type of soft drink (similar to root beer) that’s flavored with the root of the plant — although the soft drink doesn’t have the same benefits as real sarsaparilla teas or tinctures do, of course.
In herbal medicine practices, sarsaparilla plant roots are ground up and used to make natural remedies (tinctures, teas, supplements, etc.) that help treat some of the following health problems:
•Cancer and tumor growth
•Coughs and colds
•Rheumatoid arthritis pains, joint pain or rheumatism
•Skin problems, including psoriasis, toe fungus, wounds, ulcers and ringworm
•Muscle pains or weakness
•Low libido and sexual impotence
•Infections, such as sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea
•Overheating and fevers