This plant is a member of the lily family and native to tropical and temperate parts of the world and comprises about 350 species worldwide. It is native to South America, Jamaica, the Caribbean, Mexico (species ornate is native to Mexico), Honduras, and the West Indies. The name sarsaparilla is not surprisingly a derivation of the Spanish words that describe the plant; zarza (bramble or bush), parra (vine), and illa (small)—a small, brambled vine. It is a well known component of traditional Root Beer; though it is likely that the plant was used to produce the characteristic foam (saponins form soapy bubbles in solution), rather than as a flavoring agent. Root Beer was flavored with Sassafras.
Sarsaparilla contains saponins, specifically sarsapogenin saponins. These chemicals can be synthetically altered in a lab into steroidal comp0unds, but this does not occur in the human body. Curiously, the sarsapogenins have been shown to bind to endotoxins in the alimentary canal. This lowers the general complement level, and encourages a healthy inflammatory response in the body as a whole. This is a possible explanation of why almost every traditional culture that has used the plant found it helpful for the skin, joints, liver, reproductive function and blood.
Uses of Sarsaparilla
This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.