What is Sarsaparilla Root?
When you think of the word sarsaparilla, it may bring to mind an old-fashioned soda that was popular generations ago. You’d be correct! Although sarsaparilla is a plant, its root was one of the first flavorings included to make soda and sweets (x). People used the sarsaparilla plant long before soda and candy, though.
History of Sarsaparilla
The plant itself is made up of woody vines, and that’s where it got its name. The word sarsaparilla is a translation of the Spanish word zarzaparilla, which means “brambly vine”. There are varieties of the sarsaparilla plant in most parts of the world now, but it was originally native to tropical climates in the Western Hemisphere (x).
The variety of sarsaparilla used in both the culinary and medicinal world is made up of vines that can grow up to 50 feet. Green leaves, flowers and reddish purple berries cover it, but it’s the root that we use. In more traditional herbal medicine practices, Native Americans use the sarsaparilla root to make a tea or tonic to treat the common cold, ringworm and skin ailments (x, x). On the other side of the world, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use sarsaparilla root to make teas and soups that treat various skin conditions (x).
As sarsaparilla made its way into popular culture throughout the 18th century as a flavoring agent, scientists devoted more and more research into investigating its beneficial properties to human health.
Sarsaparilla Root Benefits
So, what has the research proved, if anything? Does it confirm the traditional herbal medicinal uses? In some cases, yes, and in some cases, it has debunked certain claims. The most conclusive evidence has pointed to the benefit sarsaparilla root has in regards to antioxidant support, psoriasis, liver functioning, inflammation and arthritis.
Psoriasis and Acne Treatment
Sarsaparilla root was traditionally used across many cultures to treat ailments of the skin, and it is still being used to treat symptoms of psoriasis and reduce acne. Sarsaparilla root is so successful in the treatment of psoriasis and acne because of the presence of certain flavonoids such as quercetin (x, x). These flavonoids produce extremely effective anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects in the treatment of many skin conditions (x, x, x).
We know that the flavonoids found in sarsaparilla root promote a strong anti-inflammatory reaction. Beyond the flavonoids, however, the root contains a compound called epicatechin. Epicatechin also has strong systemic anti-inflammatory effects. Because of the anti-inflammatory effects of sarsaparilla root, it has become a more commonly mentioned beneficial herb in the treatment of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (x, x).
Gout is an inflammatory joint condition that comes as a result of build-up of uric acid in the blood. Beyond the already mentioned anti-inflammatory effects of the sarsaparilla root, some studies show that sarsaparilla root inhibits the build-up of uric acid. It might therefore provide some much needed relief for people suffering from painful gout (x).
Promotes a Healthy Liver
The sarsaparilla root contains compounds that reduce oxidative damage in the liver. This effect is especially true for metabolizing nicotine. In addition, the presence of flavonoids and the diuretic properties of the root contribute to general liver functioning and detoxification (x, x, x).
The sarsaparilla root contains high levels of phenolic compounds that give the root extremely effective antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help our bodies to fight against free radicals that often cause chronic disease (x).
More recent studies are becoming available on the potential anti-cancer properties of sarsaparilla root. These studies suggest that the extract may be able to fight certain cancer cells (specifically breast and liver cancers). It might also possess anti-tumor properties. This herb cannot cure cancer, but has simply demonstrated some anti-cancer effects. Limited evidence exists to support the results in humans and more clinical trials are necessary (x, x, x).
Sarsaparilla Root Dosage and Side Effects
As a dietary supplement, take 1,700 mg (heavy 2/3 tsp) sarsaparilla root powder daily, or as directed by a physician.
Like with all supplements, sarsaparilla root is not a substitute for legitimate medical advice. It is best to talk to a doctor if you experience problems with your health before taking any supplements.
As long as one sticks to suggested serving sizes, this supplement should be safe to take for healthy adults. However, people with kidney conditions and pregnant/nursing women should not take this product without approval from a doctor.
Sarsaparilla root may cause stomach upset.
The Bottom Line
Sarsaparilla root doesn’t just taste good. It has lots of potential health benefits. Modern research is only beginning to emerge, but seems promising. Whether you are looking for a supplement to help ease your chronic inflammation, acne, psoriasis or if you are seeking natural alternatives to conditions like gout or arthritis, sarsaparilla root may be worth a try.
By: Meghan Carney