Sarsaparilla: Benefits, Possible Side Effects, And Recipes

Written by Varsha Patnaik , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach

If you have grown up seeing “The Smurfs”, you might remember seeing red-colored berries? Known as Smurfberries in the show, in the real world, it is known as sarsaparilla. Called “Salsepareille” in French, the sarsaparilla plant comes from the Smilax family. It has been used by the people in Southeast Asia for the treatment of syphilis, gout, and skin diseases for thousands of years (1). In this article, we will look at the seven ways sarsaparilla benefits your health, its possible side effects, and the precautions that must be kept in mind while consuming sarsaparilla.

What Is Sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla is a plant that is native to America, especially in regions such as South America, Mexico, Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the West Indies. While Native Americans have used the sarsaparilla plant for treating leprosy for centuries, European explorers took the sarsaparilla root back to Europe and incorporated it in the treatment of syphilis. Also known as khao yen, or jupicanga, this plant was used in the west to make a drink called sarsaparilla, which is mixed with sassafras and is the precursor to modern root beer. Likened to the taste of vanilla and licorice, this sweet-tasting plant can be a perfect addition to your tea or soda.

Now that you know what sarsaparilla is, let us read about the different ways sarsaparilla benefits us in the long run.

7 Health Benefits Of Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla has been used by ancient healers for centuries to heal different ailments such as syphilis, cold, and arthritis. While modern medicine is yet to investigate these claims, researchers have been able to study some of the benefits of sarsaparilla root. Let us see what Science has to say about them.

1. May Help In Fighting Cancer

A lab study was conducted to see if sarsaparilla extract was effective in slowing down the migration and invasion of cancer cells. The researchers found that the extract was successful in inhibiting the migration and invasion of the cancer cells (3).

2. May Help In Reducing Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a disease that is characterized by red or white cell patches all over the skin. These cell patches cause irritation and itching caused by Th17 cells which have been linked to psoriasis (4). A study was conducted to see the effect of astilbin on skin lesions caused by psoriasis. Astilbin is a compound found in plants such as sarsaparilla that is said to be rich in antioxidants. Mice with skin lesions were given 25/ 50 mg/kg astilbin and the experts saw an improvement in the lesions (5). While the results are promising, more studies on humans need to be conducted to solidify this claim.

3. May Be A Potential Anti-inflammatory And Analgesic Agent

Research says sarsaparilla may have the potential to be an anti-inflammatory and analgesic agent. A study was done to investigate the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of the extract obtained from Jamaican sarsaparilla. When compared to saline and vegetable oil, sarsaparilla extract showed significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, suggesting that this plant could become a potential player in modern medicinal treatment (6).

4. May Play A Role In The Treatment Of Arthritis

Sarsaparilla has been used across cultures in Southeast Asia for centuries in the treatment of arthritis. Modern Science has tried to find evidence that supports this claim. A study examined the effect of turmeric, sarsaparilla, and vitamin D in acupuncture for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis. A patient diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis was administered acupuncture with a mixture of turmeric, sarsaparilla, and vitamin D once a day. The results showed a reduction in the symptoms such as edema and stiffness, suggesting that sarsaparilla may play a role in the treatment of arthritis (7).

5. May Provide Protection Against Liver Damage

A study was done to see the effect of ethanol extract taken from sarsaparilla on rats with liver damage. The rats were given doses between 0.5 to 3.0 g/kg and were monitored for 24 hours. Researchers saw that the extract inhibited the rise of GPT, an enzyme associated with liver damage, indicating that sarsaparilla extract may provide protection against liver damage (8).

6. May Be A Potential Antimicrobial Agent

Research indicates that sarsaparilla shows antimicrobial activity that is essential for fighting foreign pathogens that enter the body. A study was done to see the antimicrobial activity of sarsaparilla. The results suggested that there were 18 compounds that showed antimicrobial activity against 6 bacteria and one fungus, suggesting that it may be used as an antimicrobial agent for treatment (9).

7. May Have Diuretic Properties

While more research needs to be done to substantiate this, preliminary studies have shown that sarsaparilla may exhibit diuretic properties. A diuretic is a substance that increases the production of urine in our bodies. A study was done to examine the diuretic activity of sarsaparilla on laboratory animals. In this study, sarsaparilla extract was orally administered to study the diuretic activity on the animals. The extract demonstrated a significant amount of diuretic activity (10).

From the above section, you can see that there is growing evidence that sarsaparilla benefits us in various ways. Let us now look into the possible side effects and allergies of sarsaparilla.

Possible Side Effects And Allergies Of Sarsaparilla

Various cultures across the world have been using sarsaparilla for ages. There is limited evidence that suggests possible side effects of sarsaparilla, though you should keep a few things in mind before you consume it.

  • Due to studies showing that sarsaparilla exhibits diuretic activity, it is recommended that you avoid consuming it when you are dehydrated (10).
  • A study was conducted that suggests that sarsaparilla root dust may cause asthma in occupational environments (11).

As you can see, research indicates that consumption of sarsaparilla root dust may lead to possible side effects such as asthma. More studies will need to be conducted to understand if sarsaparilla produces any other side effects. Let us look at the various ways in which you can incorporate sarsaparilla into your diet.

How To Take Sarsaparilla

Since the taste of sarsaparilla has been equated with the likes of licorice and vanilla, this sweet-tasting herb can be added to a hot cup of tea to give you a nice boost in the morning. Let’s look at a simple recipe of sarsaparilla tea that you can make at home.

1. Sarsaparilla Tea

Sarsaparilla-Tea

Shutterstock

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon of shredded sarsaparilla root
  • 1 cup of hot water
  • 1 teaspoon of honey

Instructions

  1. Bring a saucepan and add 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil.
  2. Chop and shred the pieces of the root as finely as possible.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the chopped root to a teapot.
  4. Pour the hot water over the chopped root and stir it properly.
  5. Allow it to steep for 15 minutes.
  6. Strain the tea into a cup.
  7. Add 1 teaspoon of honey and enjoy your cup of tea warm.

With this simple recipe of sarsaparilla tea, you can enjoy a nice cup of tea and experience the different ways sarsaparilla benefits you. Let us look into some of the precautions to keep in mind before consuming sarsaparilla.

Precautions To Consider While Taking Sarsaparilla

While sarsaparilla herb is relatively safe for consumption, there are a few precautions you should consider while taking sarsaparilla. While there is no research to support this, high concentrations of sarsaparilla may lead to an allergic reaction and stomach upset. It is highly advised that you consult a doctor for the right dose of sarsaparilla consumption.

Summary

What is sarsaparilla? It is a woody vine with red berries that grows in the rainforests of South America, Mexico, and the West Indies which has been used in many cultures across the world for its medicinal properties. Limited research suggests that sarsaparilla may fight cancer and may help in the treatment of psoriasis. With initial studies suggesting that sarsaparilla may contribute to the development of asthma, more studies will need to be conducted to look into this. With a sweet vanilla flavor to it, kick back and sip your hot cup of sarsaparilla.

FAQs

1. Can I take sarsaparilla every day?

Currently, research does not state that it is unsafe to take sarsaparilla. Please consult your doctor before you consume sarsaparilla regularly.

2. Is sarsaparilla good for high blood pressure?

There is presently no scientific evidence that suggests that sarsaparilla is good for high blood pressure.

3. How do you take sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla can be taken in the form of sarsaparilla supplements and sarsaparilla tea.

4. How to use sarsaparilla on a daily basis?

You may use sarsaparilla to make tea or you can use it to make your own sarsaparilla soda every day.

References:

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  1. Sarsaparilla (Smilax Glabra Rhizome) Extract Inhibits Migration and Invasion of Cancer Cells by Suppressing TGF-β1 Pathway
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4351248/
  2. Cancer
    https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer
  3. Sarsaparilla (Smilax Glabra Rhizome) Extract Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth by S Phase Arrest Apoptosis and Autophagy via Redox-Dependent ERK1/2 Pathway
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25732255/
  4. Th17 Cells in Human Disease
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3299089/
  5. Astilbin Inhibits Th17 Cell Differentiation and Ameliorates Imiquimod-induced Psoriasis-like Skin Lesions in BALB/c Mice via Jak3/Stat3 Signaling Pathway
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26784569/
  6. Investigation of the Anti-inflammatory and the Analgesic Effects of the Extracts from Smilax Ornata Lem. (Jamaican sarsaparilla) Plant
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31063818/
  7. Treatment of Psoriatic Arthritis with Acupuncture Turmeric ( Curcuma longa) Sarsaparilla ( Smilax officinalis) and Vitamin D: A Case Report
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33362443/
  8. Hepatoprotective and Safety Evaluation Studies on Sarsaparilla
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232082983_Hepatoprotective_and_Safety_Evaluation_Studies_on_Sarsaparilla
  9. Chemical Constituents from the Rhizomes of Smilax Glabra and their Antimicrobial Activity
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23698042/
  10. Diuretic Activity of Some Smilax Canariensis Fractions
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22289346/
  11. Occupational Asthma Caused by Sarsaparilla Root Dust
    https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(96)70214-2/fulltext
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