Sarsaparilla: What It Is And Benefits Of This Plant

Sarsaparilla is a famous old-fashioned carbonated beverage and used as a flavoring in root beer.

La planta de la zarzaparrilla posee unos frutos rojos con los que se elabora la bebida.
The sarsaparilla plant grows characteristic red berries.

Sarsaparilla soda was one of the first popular soft drinks before Coca-cola and this plant's roots are a natural remedy for conditions like psoriasis and arthritis. Herbal teas made of Smilax aspera can help the kidneys to purge toxins and kidney stones.

Below, we'll take a look at what sarsaparilla is and the benefits of both the plant and the beverage  made from it. Besides, we'll dive into its history and traditional preparation method.

What is sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla, also known by the scientific name Smilax aspera, is a bush that's a member of the Smilacaceae family. This variety is usually prescribed as a phytotherapeutic supplement in Europe. However, there are other types like the American species, that have even stronger detoxifying properties.

Smilax ornata, smilax aristolochiifolia,  smilax glyphylla, and aralia nudicaulis are a few zarzaparilla (Spanish name) species.

This plant is mainly found in Europe, Africa, and Asia, although you can also see it in forests, scrublands, and brambles in the Americas.

As far as its appearance, this vine that can grow up to 14 meters high. Also, although Smilax aspera is commonly found in Europe, currently the American variety is used more often in natural remedies. Take note, this plant's roots are used -not its berries.

Its stems are thin and spiny, and its yellow leaves have a rough texture. This plant's berries are often mistaken for currants since they are round and red just like this fruit.

Be careful to avoid confusing Smilax aspera with black walnut, a similar plant, whose fruit is highly toxic. To differentiate the two, just remember that sarsaparilla has 2 or 3 seeds max inside of each fruit while the other has 6.

The soft drink

Sarsaparilla was the main ingredient in a soft drink made from the roots of this plant for a long time. Back in the day, this beverage was trendy both in the United States and in Europe. Also in the past, it was even used to make pesticides.

During the first part of the 19th century, this soda was in high demand  and was consumed as a natural remedy and refreshment. Later, the drink was actually made from another plant called sassafras in spite of its name.

A principios del siglo XIX, la zarzaparrilla era un bebida muy popular en todo el mundo.
Sarsaparilla was a popular soft drink in Europe and the US in the 19th century


Its high saponin and phytosterol content means that this plant works as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent. 

This plant is used as a remedy to treat health conditions like rheumatism, psoriasis, and eczema. Besides, it is known for its detoxifying and diuretic properties. Sarsaparilla is even considered therapeutic when it comes to treating syphilis. Below we describe some of this plant's main features and benefits.

1. Diuretic and diaphoretic

This plant has been scientifically proven as a diuretic, which is why its extract is used to treat urinary tract-relate pathologies. Keeping this in mind, Sarsaparilla promotes circulation, the elimination of uric acid, and increases the bioavailability or absorption of other medicinal herbs. This root in tea form also combats fluid retention.

2. Kidney detox

If taken in capsule form, this plant can be used to treat kidney infections.  Its flavonoids also help to reverse liver damage and improve liver function. 

3. Joint pain relief

As an anti-inflammatory, sarsaparilla can help to treat the joint pain typically associated with arthritis, gout, or even rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to any other type of issue that could possibly provoke inflammation in the body. It can also help to clean wounds and treat urinary infections like cystitis.

4. Syphilis treatment

Because it's an anti-bacterial agent,  this plant can help treat syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria.

5. Acne treatment

When used in conjunction with other plants like dandelion or burdock in poultice form, and applied to the affected areas, sarsaparilla can be used as a natural acne treatment and to get rid of the skin's impurities. It also works great to fight eczema, allergic reactions, and hives. 

Existen diferentes tipos de zarzaparrilla, cada una con sus flores y frutos característicos.
There are several different types of sarsaparilla plants, and each one has different flowers and berries.

6. Expectorant

Sarsaparilla's beneficial properties also reduce bronchitis and flu symptoms. Besides, it can improve digestion and other digestive issues like colic or diarrhea.

7. Psoriasis treatment

This plant contains a steroid called sarsaponin which has the potential to improve psoriasis symptoms. To be more specific, this organic compound binds to the endotoxins that cause these lesions and removes them.

Contraindications and warnings

Although this plant can be used to fight urinary tract infections, it still has contraindications for those that have severe nephritis.

Since it contains elevated amounts of saponins -steroid glycosides considered antinutrients,- sarsaparilla can irritate the kidneys and have adverse effects.

In cases of kidney failure, if used as a natural diuretic, you should always talk to your doctor first. And of course, never abuse this extract.


Abdala, S. (2012). Diuretic activity of some Smilax canariensis fractions. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 140(2):277-281.

Cwynar, L. C. (2004). Lily Family (Liliaceae). In K. L. Lerner & B. W. Lerner (Eds.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Science (3rd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 2340-2342). Detroit: Gale.