Cowboys drank sarsaparilla soda in the Old West! Today I want to share the health benefits of this wonderful herb.
When you first hear “sarsaparilla,” you might think of soda. This herb comes from the roots of a a woody vine called Smilax, which belongs to the Lily family. It’s still is used as a popular flavoring of cola and root beer in some countries. If you want to pronounce it out loud, just say “Sass – Parilla” to keep it easy.
Another cola flavoring – aside from sarsaparilla – was the Coca leaf, which gives us cocaine. In 1885, Coca Cola was initially put into marketplaces with trace amounts of cocaine, about 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of flavoring syrup. Coke wasn’t totally free of cocaine until 1929. That’s how they got the name… it was named it for its two medicinal ingredients, which were coca leaves and kola nuts.
Sarsaparilla has nothing to do with cocaine. It is considered good liver support and helps protect the liver from damage. Your liver is under tremendous assault and works 24/7. It has to filter out the toxins from our environment, and all the chemicals from the food you eat, as well as your medications and alcohol or nicotine if you consume that.
The liver is your detoxification organ, and sarsaparilla, can definitely help you. Several animal studies prove this. In one STUDY rodents were exposed to a liver toxin called “carbon tetrachloride.” The rats who were fed food with sarsaparilla herb, had significantly less damage to their liver as compared to control rodents.
In another STUDY high doses of acetaminophen (aka paracetamol) was used to produce liver damage, and despite the toxic insult, sarsaparilla was again, protective for the rats’ livers!
Sarsaparilla contains a huge variety of plant compounds that are beneficial for general health, but the ones that appear to be most responsible for liver protection are the flavonoids. This is a class of antioxidants, which tend to be protective for cells that have a high turnover rate (very fast metabolism), like your liver cells. It can cause mild diuresis too, that’s how it cleanses the blood and acts as a blood purifer. It reduces fluid retention by increasing urination (diuresis), so again, it’s a blood purifier, helfpul for kidneys too!
Traditionally, healers in many cultures have used sarsaparilla to help people with skin problems and modern research supports its use in inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease, which can be very frustrating and painful.
Irritated skin has a tendency to get infected, because it has lost its normal epidermal barrier, so getting a bad infection in an area of active psoriasis or eczema is unfortunately quite common. Sarsaparilla reduces risk of these infections.
In a mouse model studying psoriasis, scientists found that extracts of sarsaparilla could reduce inflammation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26784569). In fact, researchers are working on developing a pharmaceutical version of one special flavonoid found in sarsaparilla! The one they’re interested in is called “astilbin.” If you would like to read the STUDY on astilbin and how it can slow down the overgrowth (proliferation of skin cells (keritonyctes) then CLICK HERE.
In a mouse model of another frustrating inflammatory skin condition called
atopic dermatitis (aka eczema), the STUDY found that feeding mice sarsaparilla herb reduced the amount of inflammation in the skin.
Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and others are almost always treated with topical or oral steroids, which suppress the immune system and produce significant side effects. Oral steroid use can even lead to psychotic-like reactions as well as stomach upset, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety and aggression. So using sarsaparilla (or drinking a tea) might be one safer alternative – of course ask your physician if this remedy is right for you.
I have no idea if it’s good for your particular situation. I write to millions of people a week, so again, be sure you check with someone in-the-know about your individual medical condition. Keep in mind during your conversations with your practitioner, that this herb is natural, has wide and easy accessibility since it’s sold in health food stores nationwide and apothecaries, and finally has very few if any toxic side effects. It can be applied topically as a poultice, and may help with stubborn skin infections.
When you have a cut, you might want to try it. Sarsaparilla herb contains some plant compounds that act like an antibiotic against Staphylococcus aureus, which is a very common cause of skin infections.
Some of our boomers will remember “sarsaparilla” soda but they’re not available in the US. Even still, the root beer or sodas that ARE still available do not contain actual sarsaparilla, just man-made flavorings that essentially mimic the taste of the natural herb. Even if you find a soda or root beer that does contain the real herb, there isn’t enough in there! So I’d take soda off the table as a method of consuming sarsaparilla herb. Sorry, I know that some of you wanted an authentic excuse to drink a case of root beer!
Although some people really enjoy the bitter, anise-like taste of sarsaparilla, it’s not common as an ingredient in cooking. So I’d take the spice off the table too!
The best way is to find a reputable brand of the herb and make a tea, or take a capsule, extract or tincture. Be careful, sometimes, inferior brands contain a completely different herb called “Indian Sarsaparilla” (from Hemidesmus) which is not related to true sarsaparilla despite having a similar name.Look for any of these genus names on the “Supplement Facts Box” or the label of your product because only these are associated with the real deal:
These ingredients to ensure that what you have is real sarsaparilla (and not Hemidesmus, which is the other plant with a similar name). If you’re confused, or uncertain, ask an herbalist, naturopath or acupuncturist. You can also call your local apothecary or health food store, but again, be sure to read the label and find “Smilax” on there.
There are very few reported side effects of sarsaparilla. that doesn’t mean there are none. They’re just not reported. I think the most common reactions might be hypersensitivity (as in allergy) or indigestion, itchiness or rash.
Sarsaparilla is available in topical creams and salve. This is a great remedy to stock in your chest because if you get a paper cut or scrape, you can apply it to your skin to reduce risk of staph infection.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.