Sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis)
Sarsaparilla is a tropical American perennial plant. It is also found throughout India and in the Himalayas under 5,000 feet. Its long, tuberous rootstock produces a vine which trails on the ground and climbs by means of tendrils growing in pairs from the petioles of the alternate, obicular to ovate, evergreen leaves. The small, greenish flowers grow in axillary umbels. Sarsaparilla belongs to a large family of related Smilax species. Sarsaparilla was first used in the United States when the early pioneers learned about its tonic nature from Native Americans. Sarsaparilla was independently discovered in other countries around the world to be an effective treatment for rheumatism, whereby its mode of action has been linked to its high content of saponins.
In recent times, sarsaparilla has been widely promoted as one of the ingredients in various herbal combination products intended to serve athletes and bodybuilders as legal replacements for illegal steroidal drugs. To promote such usage, some distributors claim that sarsaparilla contains testosterone. As a matter of fact, that hormone has never been detected in any plant, including sarsaparilla. Advertisements also claim that the saponins in the herb are converted in some way in the body to allow them to function similar to anabolic steroids. This is also untrue. But the most deceptive practice of all with respect to sarsaparilla is the substitution for it, in some commercial herb products, of Hemidesmus indicus (L.) Schult. Known as false sarsaparilla or as Indian sarsaparilla for its country of origin, sarsaparilla belongs to an entirely different plant family (Asclepiadaceae), and it does not contain the same saponins or other principal constituents found in sarsaparilla. Read the label carefully of any product said to contain sarsaparilla; the herb must be obtained from appropriate Smilax species originating in tropical America, not from Hemidesmus.
Sarsaparilla is anti-inflammatory and cleansing, and can bring relief to skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and itchiness, and help treat rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. It has a tonic and specifically testosterogenic action on the body, leading to increased muscle bulk, and it has a potential use for impotence. Sarsaparilla also has a progesterogenic action, making it beneficial in premenstrual problems, and debility and depression associated with menopause. In Mexico, the root is still frequently consumed for its reputed tonic and aphrodisiac properties. Native Amazonian peoples take sarsaparilla to improve virility and to treat menopausal problems.
Sarsaparilla reduces fevers by helping cool down the body and promoting perspiration. A tea made from it has also been used externally for skin problems, scrofula, ringworm, and tetters. Sarsaparilla is a mild gastric irritant due to its saponin content. The smoke of Sarsaparilla was once recommended for asthma conditions. It is also very useful as a tonic, alterative, diaphoretic and diuretic. Sarsaparilla purifies the urino-genital tract, dispelling all infection and inflammation. Sarsaparilla's diaphoretic and blood-cleansing action is useful for rheumatic inflammation. It also stimulates the production of reproductive hormones, and has tonic action on the sexual organs. Sarsaparilla helps to increase testosterone & progesterone levels in the body. It is said to excite the passions, making men more virile and women more sensuous. Externally, it can be used as a wash for genital sores or herpes, or as a hot fomentation for painful, arthritic joints. Additionally, heavy metallic contaminants form in the blood from the foul and corrupted air breathed in daily by millions of people in large metropolitan areas affected by smog. Sarsaparilla s especially good for removing these heavy metals if taken properly. The common name Sarsaparilla includes the species Smilax ornata, Smilax glabra, Smilax regelii, Smilax febrifuga and Smilax aristolachiaefolia, which are used interchangeably with Smilax officinalis.