SARSAPARILLA (Smilax aspera L)


It’s a thorny dioecious vine, with perennial leaves. It sprouts from an underground cylindrical rhizome of 1 cm in diameter. The young stem is reddish. As the plant gets older, the stem and the leaves harden. Leaves are alternate, petiolate, with nodes and a sheath that wraps a spur. They have tendrils that use to creep and climb. The leaf is arrow-shaped and 6 cm long, widen at the base and narrowing towards the apex, ending up in a short and abrupt point. The upper face is shining green and paler beneath. Flowers are white, small grouped at the end of the stems arranged in a zig-zag pattern. Fruit is a dark red berry when ripe, globose with three cavities holding 1-2 seeds inside each. Traditionally it has been included in the Liliaceae family, although nowadays is considered to belong to the Smilacaceae family.
Sarsaparilla leaves in thickets and hedges and prefers sunny places and limy substrate soils. It can be found in bushes, holm-oak woods, hedges and ravines throughout the Iberian Peninsula. It is also found in tropical regions.
The sarsaparilla was a very popular beverage during the 19th century, both in Europe and United States. It was a refreshing drink made from the roots of the plant, sugar, honey and water.

Part used
The root of different species of Smilax is used, in Spain, mainly S. Aspera.

Internal use
> Skin diseases: acne, eczemas, psoriasis, etc.
> Joint rheumatisms: Hyperuricemia and gout.
> Oliguria, irritation of the urinary tract, kidney stones, edemas.
> High blood pressure.
> Flu and colds.
> Depurative treatments.
> In folk medicine it has been used for the treatment of syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases. It was also recommended as a sexual tonic and stimulant.

External use

> Skin disorders: skin infections caused by dermatophytes, dermatitis, psoriasis, etc.
> Arthritis, arthralgias.

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