Food and Medicinal Value of Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla is a plant that was used at one time to make a very popular non-alcoholic drink, particularly in the southern United States. The part of the plant that was normally used was the root. This was added to sugar and water, with the beverage being bottled and capped before full fermentation could take place. Since it was the root that was used and the process for making it wasn’t dissimilar to making beer, the drink was dubbed “root beer”. Modern day rootbeer is often made using flavorings, however ‘old fashioned rootbeer’ is still sometimes made with sarsaparilla roots. It is from this that most people are acquainted with sarsaparilla, though perhaps not the plant itself. It should be noted that the reference to sarsaparilla is being used here for the plant with a scientific name of Smilax ornata and closely related plants (Smilax aristolochiifolia, Smilax febrifuga, Smilax regelii and Smilax officinalis). This distinction is important because another plant that is commonly called wild sarsaparilla is Aralia nudicaulis. This is an entirely different genus. Although the flavor is quite similar to sarsaparilla and many of the uses are the same, wild sarsaparilla is an unrelated plant of the ginseng family. True sarsaparilla is a member of the lily family. Additionally, wild sarsaparilla is native to the northern US and Canada while true sarsparilla (alternate spelling; sarsparilla) is tropical to semi-tropical. Sarsaparilla is a perennial vine that is native to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The vines have Continue Reading →

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