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(Smilax Officinalis)

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The tuberous rootstock produces a woody angular stem that trails along the ground, reaching 4 to 12 inches in length. The stems have rigid thorns and bear ovate-oblong, alternate, glossy, dark green leaves. The flowers are green-white and grow in petiolate umbels containing 10 to 20 blossoms. It is found throughout the tropical regions of the Americas. The medicinal part is the rootstock - fresh or dried, collected in the autumn.

Other common names:

Honduras sarsaparilla Red sarsaparilla Spanish sarsaparilla


Hormones Plant Alcohols Progesterone
Resins Saponins Sitosterol
Starch Steroids Stigmasterol
Tannins Testosterone Volatile Oils

* For definition of some of the above terms see the dictionary section of this book.


 Iron Magnesium Phosphorus
Potassium Selenium Sodium
Vitamin B Complex    

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Properties and Uses

Carminative - an agent which assists in expelling gas from the intestines.

Diaphoretic - an agent which increases perspiration.

Diuretic - Diuretics form a class of drugs which increase the volume of urine produced by the kidneys. It can be used effectively to treat mild cases of edema when kidney function is good and when the underlying abnormality of cardiac function, capillary pressure, or salt retention is being corrected simultaneously. Diuretics are not an appropriate treatment for edema caused by inflammation of the kidneys, and are useless in cardiac edema associated with advanced kidney insufficiency. There are a variety of diuretics with different modes of action. Among the diuretics are spironolactones, triamterene, and theobromine.

Tonic - an agent which strengthens or tones.

Sarsaparilla is a valuable herb used in glandular balance formulae. It increases the metabolic rate. Sarsaparilla contains the male hormone testosterone, which aids hair growth, and progesterone, the hormone produced by the ovaries. It increases blood circulation to rheumatic joints and stimulates breathing.

It is primarily effective in the delicate nerve fibers and tissues of the brain, spinal cord, lungs, and throat. For fevers and pulmonary distress, it is useful when taken with other herbs. For multiple sclerosis it offers some therapeutic relief, although not a cure. Plant alkaloids in this herb are behaviorally similar to spikenard. Their molecular structure allows them to penetrate and soften dense masses of hardened material, as is the case with multiple sclerosis. The alkaloid molecules also attach themselves to germicidal microbes and weaken them.

Used with other ingredients, the saponins in this herb help the body absorb other drugs, and have anti-inflammatory effects on certain body tissues. Sarsaparilla is also useful in treating mercury poisoning.

Dried sarsaparilla root contains sarsasaponin (from which the steroid sarsaspogenin is obtained), smilacin (parillin), paroaparic acid, resin, and volatile oil. Sarsaspogenin is also found in large quantities in the yucca species. The drug is nearly odorless, but has a bittersweet taste. Saponins make sarsaparilla liquid extract froth readily; it is these strong, soapy compounds which give sarsaparilla the clinical reputation for very effective treatment of psoriasis, rheumatism, syphilis, and other skin and venereal diseases.

For syphilis and virulent gonorrhea, sarsaparilla works better when combined with other herbs such as sassafras and burdock root. Used clinically for the treatment of syphilis it was rated 90% effective by Chinese physicians, though no controlled studies have been carried out in Western laboratories or clinics.

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Toxicity Levels

Sarsaparilla has been categorized as nothing more than a mild gastric irritant due to its high saponin content.


Known Interactions - None.

Possible Interactions - The tannin in sarsaparilla may potentiate the antibiotic activity of echinacea. The tannin in tea made from the herb may be inactivated by the addition of milk or cream.

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