The health benefits of the herb Sarsaparilla are believed to arise from the plant’s demulcent, diuretic, tonic and blood purifying properties.
Sarsaparilla refers to several plant species and genus that are used for culinary and medicinal purposes due to their distinct aromatic and flavorful qualities. The species of sarsaparilla that people are most familiar with is the one belonging to the genus Smilax which is native to South America, Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean countries. There are roughly 350 species worldwide in this particular genus. This is a perennial plant that produces a trailing vine with lots of wood-like stems and long thorns. The flowers of this American sarsaparilla are small and greenish in color, and they grow in axillary umbels.
This species of sarsaparilla was brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadores after they discovered the Mayans and other indigenous tribes used it as a general health tonic and aphrodisiac.
Sarsaparilla is commonly used as a flavoring for softdrink and sodas. The root beer flavoring is derived from both the sarsaparilla and sassafras herbs.
The active constituents of this sarsaparilla herb are sarsasaponin, sarsaparilloside, arsasapogenin, various quantities of starch and flavonoids, sarsapac acid, dextrose, and certain fatty acids.
Another herb also known as sarsaparilla belongs to an altogether different plant family (Asclepiadaceae), and comes the genus Hemidesmus. This herb comes from the South Asian region, notably India , and is widely known as ‘false sarsaparilla’. It is typically used as a substitute for the sarsarilla of the smilax genus. However, it is used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for various ailments.
This Indian sarsaparilla is a slender, twining, occasionally prostate or semi-erect shrub. It possesses woody and aromatic roots, as well as numerous, slender, stems that typically thicken at the nodes. It has short-petioled leaves and greenish flowers.
The active constituents of the Indian sarsaparilla are coumarins, saraponins, starch, tannins, tannic acid, glucose, phenols, iron and magnesium.
Sarsaparilla tea using either the American or the Indian variety can be made by soaking about one gram of chopped dried sarsaparilla root for 10 minutes in about 8 ounces of hot water. Filter before drinking.
The following are the health benefits attributed to sarsaparilla tea:
- Both varieties may help fight eczema, psoriasis and other skin ailments.
- Both varieties are thought to help fight arthritis and rheumatism.
- Both varieties are believed to help fight herpes, syphilis and other sexually-related ailments.
- The American variety is believed to help strengthen sexual performance and enhance virility.
- The Indian variety may help combat digestive problems.
- The Indian variety may help fight some upper respiratory infections.