Many different species are called by the general name sarsaparilla. Various species are found in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. The root is used in herbal medicine.
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Sarsaparilla has been used historically to treat people with eczema.
In Mexico, sarsaparilla was used by herbalists for rheumatism, cancer, skin diseases, and a host of other conditions.1 At the turn of the 20th century, there were reports of its use by herbalists for the treatment of leprosy.2 Sarsaparilla also has a tradition of use in various women’s health concerns and was rumored to have a progesterone-like effect. Sarsaparilla was formerly a major flavoring agent in root beer.
Sarsaparilla contains steroidal saponins, such as sarsasapogenin, which may mimic the action of some human hormones. This property remains undocumented, however. Sarsaparilla also contains phytosterols, such as beta-sitosterol, which may contribute to the anti-inflammatory effect of this herb. Reports have shown anti-inflammatory3 and liver-protecting4 effects for this herb. Similar reports on the effect of sarsaparilla on psoriasis occur in early European literature.5
Sarsaparilla is often taken in capsules, 2–4 grams three times per day.6 A tincture, 2–4 ml three times per day, may also be used.
Certain medicines interact with this supplement.
According to the German Commission E monograph, sarsaparilla may cause stomach irritation and temporary kidney irritation.9 Sarsaparilla should not be taken during pregnancy or breast feeding.
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 446.
2. Bradley PR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, vol 1. Bournemouth, Dorset, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 194–6.
3. Ageel AM, Mossa JS, Al-Yahya MA, et al. Experimental studies on antirheumatic crude drugs used in Saudi traditional medicine. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1989;15:369–72.
4. Rafatullah S, Mossa JS, Ageel AM, et al. Hepatoprotective and safety evaluation studies on sarsaparilla. Int J Pharmacognosy 1991;29:296–301.
5. Hobbs C. Sarsaparilla, a literature review. HerbalGram 1988;17:1, 10–5 [review].
6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 372–3.
7. Bradley PR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, vol 1. Bournemouth, Dorset, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 194–6.
8. Bradley PR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, vol 1. Bournemouth, Dorset, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 194–6.
9. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 372–3.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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