Sarsaparilla is a tropical plant from the genus Smilax. The climbing, woody vine grows deep in the canopy of the rainforest. It’s native to South America, Jamaica, the Caribbean, Mexico, Honduras, and the West Indies. The root is used to make medicine.
Sarsaparilla is used for treating psoriasis and other skin diseases, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and kidney disease; for increasing urination to reduce fluid retention; and for increasing sweating. Sarsaparilla is also used along with conventional drugs for treating leprosy and for syphilis.
Athletes sometimes use sarsaparilla as a steroid for performance enhancement or bodybuilding.
Chemicals in sarsaparilla might help decrease joint pain and itching, and might also reduce bacteria. Other chemicals might combat pain and swelling (inflammation), and also protect the liver against toxins.
The Spanish physician Nicholas Monardes described using sarsaparilla to treat syphilis in 1574. In 1812, Portuguese soldiers suffering from syphilis recovered faster if sarsaparilla was taken to treat the disease instead of mercury, the standard treatment at the time. Sarsaparilla has been used by many cultures for other ailments as well, including skin problems, arthritis, fever, digestive disorders, leprosy, and cancer. Late 15th century accounts explaining the identification and the first descriptions of American drugs include sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla's role as a medicinal plant in American and European remedies in the 16th century also is evident.
Sarsaparilla has been used for treating syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) throughout the world and was documented as an add-on treatment for leprosy in 1959.
In the 19th and early 20th century, sarsaparilla was used to “purify blood,” reduce water retention, and promote sweating.
Chinaroot – the sarsaparilla most commonly used in China – has been used since the 1960s for some similar indications. It was also thought to clear vaginal and sexually transmitted infections, as well as tuberculosis and scabies. Aside from these, the root was used to improve:
✅Limb stiffness and twitching (after stroke and brain injuries)
✅Bone and muscle pain
In other countries such as Thailand, Korea, and Sri Lanka, sarsaparilla is used to reduce inflammation, improve blood vessel health, and help with kidney and liver diseases. Its use in folk medicine even spans some serious conditions such as blood poisoning, cancer, and AIDS.
Extracts of the roots may be effective in treating gout and metabolic syndrome (a combination of conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol); however, evidence is based largely on animal studies and clinical trials are limited. Sarsaparilla has been traditionally used for treating syphilis, leprosy, and psoriasis; however, evidence to support these uses is lacking. Interest in cell-killing potential in treating cancer exists.
What gives Sarsaparilla its healing abilities?
Researchers have identified numerous active chemical properties within sarsaparilla, including strong antioxidants, along with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compounds. These include: (2)
Saponins: Anti-inflammatory chemical compounds that taste bitter and help kill fungus, bacteria, cancer cells and harmful microbes. Saponins also naturally mimic effects of certain reproductive hormones associated with youthful characteristics, including testosterone and estrogen. Sarsaparilla contains approximately 2 percent steroidal saponins, including sarsaponin, smilasaponin (smilacin), sarsaparilloside, sarsasaponin parillin and smilagenin.
Plant sterols: Found in many high-fiber plant foods and shown to benefit gut health, heart health and digestive health. Phytosterols within sarsaparilla include sitosterol, stigmasterol and pollinastano.
Flavonoid antioxidants: Found in brightly colored fruits and veggies, such as berries, and linked to longevity, reduced inflammation, skin health, eye health and improved immune function. One of the most important flavonoids found within sarsaparilla is called astilbin.
Other steroidal/anti-inflammatory phytochemicals: These include diosgenin, tigogenin and asperagenin.
Starch: The root is about 50 percent starch and when eaten provides fiber and other nutrients.
Volatile oils and acids: Including caffeoylshikimic acid, shikimic acid, ferulic acid, sarsapic acid, kaempferol and quercetin.
Trace minerals: Including aluminum, chromium, iron, magnesium, selenium, calcium and zinc.
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
✅ Liver damage
✅ Infections, such as sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea
✅ Bloating/fluid retention
✅ Overheating and fevers
✅ Increases Energy
✅ Increases Oxygen In The Blood
✅ Maybe used as supportive therapy for chronic fatigue
✅ Maybe used as supportive therapy for chronic rheumatism, gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
✅ May help purify the blood as well as urino-genital tract, thus assisting in the treatment of infection and inflammation.
✅ Useful in the treatment of scaling conditions such as psoriasis and scrofula.
✅ Digestive problems. Sarsaparilla may improve appetite and digestion.
✅ Kidney problems.
✅ Fluid retention.
✅ Other conditions.