Smilax spp.

By Steven H. Horne

When I was young, we’d often have home-made root beer at family reunions or church socials. Old fashioned root beer was actually made with roots, and one of the principle flavorings in that tasty soda concoction was sarsaparilla. Years later, when I was figuring out how to make good-tasting herbal formulas for my kids, one of the herbs that fit the bill was sarsaparilla. I called my glycerine preparation of sarsaparilla my “root beer extract.”

It’s odd that the forerunners of many of today’s soft drinks were actually reasonably healthy beverages made with herbs. Unfortunately, most root beer today is made with artificial flavorings, but one can still gain the benefits of sarsaparilla as an herbal medicine.

A woody vine, cultivated in Mexico, Jamaica and Central and South America, sarsaparilla has been traditionally used to treat many kinds of skin problems and inflammatory diseases like arthritis, gout and rheumatism. Numerous species are used, but NSP uses Smilax officinalis.

Sarsaparilla root is classified as a blood purifier or alterative. This means it is used to clear toxic conditions in the body. There is scientific evidence supporting this use, as the saponins in sarsaparilla have the capacity to bind endotoxins. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and a mild hepatoprotective effect. This is why it finds it’s way into several of NSP’s cleansing or alterative formulas, including BP-X, Enviro-Detox and Skin Detox. All of these formulas have beneficial effects on the liver and can help clear up skin conditions.

Sarsaparilla works well in combination with other herbs. When the skin is hot, red and irritated, sarsaparilla works well in combination with gotu kola. To cleanse the skin, blood and liver, it works well with herbs like dandelion, burdock and yellow dock. To reduce inflammation, it combines well with turmeric and bupleurum. It can also be helpful for leaky gut in combination with Intestinal Soothe and Build or yarrow.

Sarsaparilla also has hormonal effects. It has both a testosterone-like action and a progesterone-like action. This helps account for its historical use in PMS, menopause and for increasing virility. It has also been used in formulas to help build muscle. NSP includes it in a number of hormone-balancing formulas, including C-X (for menopause), Menstrual-Reg (for heavy menstrual bleeding), Thyroid Activator (for enhancing thyroid function), DHEA-M (a male glandular formula) and X-A and X-Action for Women (formulas for increasing sexual desire).

Another use for sarsaparilla has been to reduce inflammation in arthritis, gout and rheumatism. It has a mild diuretic effect and increases uric acid excretion, too. It is also rich in minerals, including potassium, chromium, magnesium, selenium, copper and zinc, which may have a beneficial effect on joints and connective tissue. For these reasons, sarsaparilla is an ingredient in the arthritic formula, Joint Support.

Anyone in the mood for a little old-fashioned root beer?


Selected References

The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier.

The Comprehensive Guide to Nature’s Sunshine Products by Tree of Light Publishing

Herbal Therapy and Supplements by Merrily A. Kuhn and David Winston