Herb Library: Natural Herbs and Herbal Supplements Directory: Sarsaparilla





This fact sheet provides basic information about Sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla is a woody, trailing vine, which can grow to 50 meters in length. Many Smilax species are very similar in appearance regardless of origin. The part of the plant used for medicinal purposes is the root. Although this root has a pleasant fragrance and spicy sweet taste, and has been used as a natural flavoring agent in medicines, foods, and non-alcoholic beverages, it should not be confused with the sassafras tree, which has the distinctive flavoring of American root beer.

The French physician 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 versus 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 15 th 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 16 th century is also evident.

Common Names

Sarsaparilla, Smilax, Smilace, Sarsa, Khao Yen

Latin Names


What It Is Used For

  • Sarsaparilla has been used for treating syphilis, leprosy, psoriasis, and other ailments.

How It Is Used

To make sarsaparilla tea, soak 1,000 mg to 4,000 mg (one gram to 4 grams) of chopped or shredded dried root for 10 minutes in about 8 ounces of hot water, and then filter before drinking. In its alcohol-based liquid supplement form it is recommended to take 2-3 teaspoons of sarsaparilla extract up to two or three times a day.

What the Science Says

  • Sarsaparilla has been used for treating syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) throughout the world for 40 years and was documented as an adjuvant for leprosy treatment in 1959.

Side Effects and Cautions

  • No major contraindications, warnings or side effects have been documented; avoid excessive ingestion. In unusually high doses, the plant possibly could be harmful, including GI irritation.


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