Smilax aristolochiifolia

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Smilax aristolochiifolia
Smilax aristolochiifolia - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-130.jpg
gray sarsaparilla[1]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Smilacaceae
Genus: Smilax
S. aristolochiifolia
Binomial name
Smilax aristolochiifolia
  • Smilax kerberi F.W.Apt
  • Smilax medica Schltdl. & Cham.

Smilax aristolochiifolia, also known as gray sarsaparilla,[3] Mexican sarsaparilla,[3] sarsaparilla,[3] is a species in the genus Smilax and the family Smilacaceae, native to Mexico and Central America.[4][5] It is widely used as traditional medicine to treat many symptoms.[6]


Sarsaparilla is a perennial woody climber with tendrils, thin branches and extended ovate leaves that grows about 4 to 5 meters vertically.[6][7][8] Its paper-like leaves are pinnate veined, leathery and alternatively arranged.[9][10][11] The leaves' width ranges from 10 to 30 cm and the petioles' length is about 5 cm.[7] It is known for its small red berries with 2 or 3 seeds and small green flowers.[6][7] The flowers are radially symmetrical, dioecious and have umbel inflorescence of 12 flowers.[9][10][12] The berries are produced in the fall or in the late summer[10] and stays intact through the winter for animals and birds to eat.[13] Thus the pollination occurs as the unharmed seeds are found in the feces.[13] The surface of the stem is smooth; it also is bent and have thorns at the joints.[7][14] The hairy roots of sarsaparilla are fibrous and may have few rootlets growing out.[7][15] They have stiff surface and are deep-rooted, which grows from 2 to 2.5 meters.[7][14] The color of the roots ranges from brownish gray to black.[14] Sarsaparilla is a persistent plant; even when most roots are cut off from the stem, roots will grow few years later but will be slender and less starchy.[7]


Sarsaparilla is common in wooded areas because it uses its tendrils to climb up the trees.[10] It is widely found in temperate, swampy and warm areas.[7][16] Sarsaparilla is also found in high elevations; in Nuevo León, Mexico, it is found at elevation of 1760 meters, in Oaxaca at 100 meters, in Hacienda San José, Santa Ana at 850 to 1100 meters.[17]


Smilax aristolochiifolia is native to Mexico and Central America.[18] Sarsaparilla is native to the Mesoamerica region, especially in Belize, El Salvador and Guatemala.[18] In North America, sarsaparilla originates in Southern Mexico, being found primarily in the states of Tabasco, Veracruz, Yucatán,[18] Nuevo León, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Quintana Roo.[17] In El Salvador, sarsaparilla is located in Hacienda San José, Santa Ana.[17]



Its roots are extracted to be used in flavoring beverages, dairy desserts, baked goods and candies.[19] Sarsaparilla was once a main ingredient for flavoring root beer.[19] However, the taste of the root extract itself is sweet and bitter.[14]


Smilax aristolochiifolia root has extensive medicinal uses.[6] As the traditional medicine, it is used to treat leprosy, tumors, cancer, psoriasis and rheumatism.[8][19] It is also used as tonic for anemia and skin diseases.[6] It is reported to have anti-inflammatory, testosterogenic, aphrodisiac and progesterogenic effects.[6][19] Therefore, sarsaparilla roots are often promoted as male rejuvenator.[20] Not only that but it was used to build lean body mass by some gym enthusiasts.[6] Also it is believed to improve digestion and arouse appetite.[6] Natives in New Guinea use the stem of sarsaparilla as treatment for toothache.[19] However, no definite scientific evidence is given to the medicinal effects of sarsaparilla and in excessive doses, it can be harmful.[19]

Active chemicals[edit]

Sarsaparilla roots has saponins which are used to synthesize cortisone and other steroids.[6] Saponins which are known to help the body absorb other drugs more effectively.[19] However, they are plant steroids and it is believed they cannot be absorbed or used in human body.[20] It also has organic acids, flavonoids, sitosterol and stigmasterol.[6] Main chemicals of sarsaparilla are acetyl-parigenin, astilbin, beta-sitosterol, caffeoyl-shikimic acids, dihydroquercetin, diosgenin, engeletin, essential oils, epsilon-sitosterol, eucryphin, eurryphin, ferulic acid, glucopyranosides, isoastilbin, isoengetitin, kaempferol, parigenin, parillin, pollinastanol, resveratrol, rhamnose, saponin, sarasaponin, sarsaparilloside, sarsaponin, sarsasapogenin, shikimic acid, sitosterol-d-glucoside, smilagenin, smilasaponin, smilax saponins A-C, smiglaside A-E, smitilbin, stigmasterol, taxifolin, and titogenin.[13]


It is also known as Smilax medica and Smilax aristolochiaefolia.[5][6] Spanish common names include zarzaparilla, cocolmeca and alambrilla.[8] The name Sarsaparilla means a small bushed vine, from Spanish words zarza (bramble or bush), parra (vine), and illa (small).[21]


  1. ^ Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen
  2. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "Smilax aristolochiifolia". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  4. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  5. ^ a b "Plants profile". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wyk, Ben-Erik (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World. Oregon, USA: Timber Press, INC. p. 303. ISBN 978-0881926026.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla". A Manual of Materia Medica and Pharmacology. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  8. ^ a b c Velasco-Lezama, Rodolfo; Gonzalez Ramirez Claudia (2006). "Hematopoiteic activity of Smilax aristolochiaefolia in vitro and in vivo" (PDF). PharmacologyOnline. 3: 830–838. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  9. ^ a b Grieve. "Sarsaparilla, Wild". Retrieved 2012-04-29.
  10. ^ a b c d "Smilax (Smilax spp.)". University of Florida. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  11. ^ Chen, Shi-Chao; Ying-Xiong Qiu; Ai-Li Wang; Kenneth Cameron (2006). "A phylogenetic analysis of the Smilacaceae based on morphological data" (PDF). Acta Phytotaxonomica Sinica. 44 (2): 113–125. doi:10.1360/aps050065. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  12. ^ "Smilacaceae". University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  13. ^ a b c "Smilax spp.- Zarzaparrilla". Retrieved 2012-04-29.
  14. ^ a b c d "Mexican Sarsaparilla". Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  15. ^ Cáceres, Armando; Sully M. Cruz; Vicente Martínez (23 Nov 2011). "Ethnobotanical, pharmacognostical, pharmacological and phytochemical studies on Smilax domingensis in Guatemala". Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia. 22 (2). Retrieved 2012-04-26.
  16. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sarsaparilla" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 223.
  17. ^ a b c "Map of Smilax aristolochiaefolia". Retrieved 2012-04-29.
  18. ^ a b c "Germplasm Resources Information Network". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g Duke, James (1985). Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Florida, USA: CRC Press. p. 446. ISBN 978-0849329289.
  20. ^ a b "Encyclopedia of Herbs". Retrieved 2012-04-26.
  21. ^ "Database Entry: Sarsaparilla". Retrieved 2012-04-24.