Sarsaparilla (Smilax sarsaparilla) is an herb with a pleasant smelling root that gave old-fashioned root beer its bite. The plant is a perennial trailing vine that grows in Central and South America and has prickly stems. The root is the part that is used medicinally for treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, as well as ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and gout, and for reducing stress. During the sixteenth century it was used to treat syphilis. The herb’s healing properties are credited to the presence of flavonoids and saponins.
At one time, herbalists believed that sarsaparilla contained testosterone and had the ability to treat erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. However, modern science has not found any basis for these claims, although some men still take sarsaparilla for that reason. There is, however, some research to support its use for the other ailments mentioned. (Ji 2005; Lu 2003; Man 2008) Sarsaparilla also contains beta-sitosterol, which may contribute to the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties. While this benefit may be helpful for people who have arthritis, there is no evidence that the herb has any impact on prostatitis.
Ji W, Zhu XX, Tan WF, Lu Y. Effects of Rebixiao granules on blood uric acid in patients with repeatedly attacking acute gouty arthritis. Chin J Integr Med 2005 Mar; 11(1): 15-21
Lu Y, Chen D, Deng J, Tian L. Effect of Smilax china on adjunctive arthritis mouse. Zhong Yao Cai 2003 May; 26(5): 344-46.
Man MQ, Shi Y, Man M, Lee SH, et al. Chinese herbal medicine (Tuhuai extract) exhibits topical anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory activity in murine disease models. Exp Dermatol 2008 Aug; 17(8): 681-87