Herb: Sarsaparilla


Latin name: Smilax aspera


Synonyms: Smilax mauritanica


Family: Smilacaceae (Greenbrier Family)



Medicinal use of Sarsaparilla:

The root is alterative, demulcent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and tonic. This is one of the best depurative medicines and is used as a springtime tonic and general body cleanser, usually with woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). The root has all the medicinal virtues of the widely used tropical herb sarsaparilla, though to a lesser degree. It is often used as an adulterant to that plant. The ripe fruits are squeezed and applied to the skin in the treatment of scabies.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Climber

Height:
3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

Flovering:
August to
September


Scent:
Scented
Climber

Habitat of the herb:

Bushy places, river banks and ravines, usually close to the sea. Forests at elevations of 1000 - 2000 metres in S. Xizang and SW Yunnan, China.

Edible parts of Sarsaparilla:

Young shoots - raw or cooked as a vegetable. They can be cooked and used as an asparagus substitute. The tendrils are also eaten. The plant is an ingredient of soft drinks. (this probably refers to the root)

Other uses of the herb:

A red dye is obtained from the ripe tendrils. The plant is often grown as an impenetrable hedge in warmer countries than Britain.

Propagation of Sarsaparilla:

Seed - sow March in a warm greenhouse. This note probably refers to the tropical members of the genus, seeds of plants from cooler areas seem to require a period of cold stratification, some species taking 2 or more years to germinate. We sow the seed of temperate species in a cold frame as soon as we receive it, and would sow the seed as soon as it is ripe if we could obtain it then. When the seedlings eventually germinate, prick them out into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first year, though we normally grow them on in pots for 2 years. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. Division in early spring as new growth begins. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer. Cuttings of half-ripe shoots, July in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Bushy places, river banks and ravines, usually close to the sea. Forests at elevations of 1000 - 2000 metres in S. Xizang and SW Yunnan, China.

Known hazards of Smilax aspera:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.