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Sarsaparilla has a long history of use in herbal medicine systems around the world as a blood cleanser and for a wide variety of skin conditions.* For more information about sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis), please refer to the Database File for Sarsaparilla in the Tropical Plant Database. To see pictures of sarsaparilla, click here.
Traditional Uses:* for psoriasis, dermatitis, leprosy, and other skin disorders; as a blood purifier and general detoxification aid; as a general tonic (tones, balances, strengthens), stimulant, and hormonal regulator; for arthritis, rheumatism and autoimmune disorders which cause inflammation; for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases
Suggested Use: This plant is best prepared as a decoction. Use one teaspoon of powder for each cup of water. Bring to a boil and gently boil in a covered pot for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and settle for 10 minutes and strain warm liquid into a cup (leaving the settled powder in the bottom of the pan). It is traditionally taken in 1 cup amounts 2-3 times daily. For more complete instructions on preparing herbal decoctions, see the Methods for Preparing Herbal Remedies Page.
Contraindications: Large doses may cause gastrointestinal upset.
Drug Interactions: Sarsaparilla may increase the absorption of some drugs and compounds. Some report that it can increase the absorption of Digitalis glycosides while accelerating the elimination of hypnotic drugs.
Third-Party Published Research*
All available third-party research on sarsaparilla can be found at PubMed. A partial listing of the published third party research on sarsaparilla is shown below:
Anti-inflammatory & Anti-Arthritic Actions:
Liagre, B., et al. "Inhibition of human rheumatoid arthritis synovial cell survival by hecogenin and tigogenin is associated with increased apoptosis, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase activity and upregulation of cyclooxygenase-2." Int J Mol Med. 2007 Oct;20(4):451-60.
Shao, B., et al. "Steroidal saponins from Smilax china and their anti-inflammatory activities." Phytochemistry. 2007 Mar;68(5):623-30.
Shao, B., et al. "Steroidal saponins from Smilax china and their anti-inflammatory activities." Phytochemistry. 2006 Dec 11;
Shu, X. S., et al. "The anti-inflammation effects of Smilax china ethylacetate extract in rats and mice." Zhongguo. Zhong. Yao. Za. Zhi. 2006 Feb; 31(3): 239-43.
Shu, X. S., et al. "Anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive activities of Smilax china L. aqueous extract." J. Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Feb; 103(3): 327-32.
Ji, W., et al. “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.
Jiang, J., et al. “Immunomodulatory activity of the aqueous extract from rhizome of Smilax glabra in the later phase of adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats." J. Ethnopharmacol. 2003; 85(1): 53–9.
Ageel, A. M., et al. “Experimental studies on antirheumatic crude drugs used in Saudi traditional medicine.” Drugs Exp. Clin. Res. 1989; 15(8): 369–72.
Kidney Protecting Actions:
Chen, L., et al. "Astilbin attenuates hyperuricemia and ameliorates nephropathy in fructose-induced hyperuricemic rats." Planta Med. 2011 Nov;77(16):1769-73.
Chen, L., et al. "Anti-hyperuricemic and nephroprotective effects of Smilax china L." J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 May 17;135(2):399-405.
Li, G., et al. "Effect of astilbin on experimental diabetic nephropathy in vivo and in vitro." Planta Med. 2009 Nov;75(14):1470-5.
Humpert, F. “The effect of a sarsaparilla preparation (renotrat) in chronic nephritis, with particular reference to the uric acid content of the blood and urine.” Klin. Wochschr. 1933; 12: 1696.
Rittmann, R., al. “A new agent in kidney therapy.” Klin. Wochschr. 1930; 9: 401–8.
Liver Protecting Actions:
Murali, A., et al. "Effect of Smilax zeylanica roots and rhizomes in paracetamol induced hepatotoxicity."
J Complement Integr Med. 2012 Nov 9;9(1).
Iddamaldeniya, S. S., et al. "A long-term investigation of the anti-hepatocarcinogenic potential of an indigenous medicine comprised of Nigella sativa, Hemidesmus indicus and Smilax glabra." J. Carcinog. 2006 May; 5: 11.
Wang, J., et al. “Astilbin prevents concanavalin A-induced liver injury by reducing TNF-alpha production and T lymphocytes adhesion.” J. Pharm. Pharmacol. 2004; 56(4): 495-502.
Iddamaldeniya, S. S., et al. “Protection against diethylnitrosoamine-induced hepatocarcinogenesis by an indigenous medicine comprised of Nigella sativa, Hemidesmus indicus and Smilax glabra: a preliminary study.” J. Carcinog. 2003
Oct; 2(1): 6.
Chen, T., et al. “A new flavanone isolated from Rhizoma smilacis glabrae and the structural requirements for its derivatives for preventing immunological hepatocyte damage." Planta Med. 1999; 65(1): 56–9.
Rafatullah, S., et al. “Hepatoprotective and safety evaluation studies on sarsaparilla.” Int. J. Pharmacognosy 1991; 29: 296–301.
Immune Stimulant & Immune Modulating Actions:
Yi, H., et al. "Astilbin inhibits the adhesion of T lymphocytes via decreasing TNF-alpha and its associated MMP-9 activity and CD44 expression." Int Immunopharmacol. 2008 Oct;8(10):1467-74.
Guo, J., et al. "Identification of a new metabolite of astilbin, 3'-O-methylastilbin, and its immunosuppressive activity against contact dermatitis." 2007 Mar;53(3):465-71.
Spelman, K., et al. "Modulation of cytokine expression by traditional medicines: a review of herbal immunomodulators." Altern. Med. Rev. 2006 Jun; 11(2): 128-50.
Chu, K. T., et al. “Smilaxin, a novel protein with immunostimulatory, antiproliferative, and HIV-1-reverse transcriptase inhibitory activities from fresh Smilax glabra rhizomes.” Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 2006 Feb; 340(1):118-24.
Jiang, J., et al. “Immunomodulatory activity of the aqueous extract from rhizome of Smilax glabra in the later phase of
adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats." J. Ethnopharmacol. 2003; 85(1): 53–9.
Santos, W. R., et al. “Haemolytic activities of plant saponins and adjuvants. Effect of Periandra mediterranea saponin on
the humoral response to the FML antigen of Leishmania donovani." Vaccine 1997; 15(9): 1024–29.
Anti-Psoriasis & Anti-Leprosy Actions:
Juhlin, L., et al. “The influence of treatment and fibrin microclot generation in psoriasis.” Br. J. Dermatol. 1983; 108: 33–7.
Rollier, R. “Treatment of lepromatous leprosy by a combination of DDS and sarsaparilla (Smilax ornata)." Int. J. Leprosy 1959; 27: 328–40.
Thurman, F. M. “The treatment of psoriasis with sarsaparilla compound.” New England Journal of Medicine 1942; 337: 128–33.
Xia, D., et al. "Protective effect of Smilax glabra extract against lead-induced oxidative stress in rats."
J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Jul 20;130(2):414-20.
Ranilla, L., et al. "Phenolic compounds, antioxidant activity and in vitro inhibitory potential against key enzymes relevant for hyperglycemia and hypertension of commonly used medicinal plants, herbs and spices in Latin America." Bioresour Technol. 2010 Jun;101(12):4676-89.
Ma, D., et al. ”Effect of sarsasapogenin and its derivatives on the stimulus coupled responses of human neutrophils.” Clin. Chim. Acta. 2001 Dec; 314(1-2): 107-12.
Antidepressant, Memory Enhancement, & Anti-Alzheimer's Actions:
Zhang, R., et al. "Smilagenin attenuates beta amyloid (25-35)-induced degeneration of neuronal cells via stimulating the gene expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor." Neuroscience. 2012 May 17;210:275-85.
Hu, Y., et al. "Regulation of M1-receptor mRNA stability by smilagenin and its significance in improving memory of aged rats." Neurobiol Aging. 2010 Jun;31(6):1010-9.
Zhang, Y., et al. "Role of glial cell derived neurotrophic factor in the protective effect of smilagenin on rat mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons damaged by MPP+." FEBS Lett. 2008 Mar 19;582(6):956-60.
Jeon, S. Y., et al. "Beta-secretase (BACE1)-inhibiting stilbenoids from Smilax Rhizoma." Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov 2;
Ban, J. Y., et al. "Catechin and epicatechin from Smilacis chinae rhizome protect cultured rat cortical neurons against amyloid beta protein (25-35)-induced neurotoxicity through inhibition of cytosolic calcium elevation." Life Sci. 2006 Nov; 79(24) :2251-9.
Ren, L. X., et al. "Antidepressant-like effects of sarsasapogenin from Anemarrhena asphodeloides BUNGE (Liliaceae)." Biol. Pharm. Bull. 2006 Nov; 29(11): 2304-6.
Ban, J. Y., et al. "Protection of amyloid beta protein (25-35)-induced neurotoxicity by methanol extract of Smilacis chinae rhizome in cultured rat cortical neurons." J. Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Jun; 106(2): 230-7.
Barraclough , P., et al. "5-.beta.-sapogenin and pseudosapogenin derivatives and their use in the treatment of dementia." United States Patent 7,138,427: November 21, 2006.
Hu Y, et al. “A new approach to the pharmacological regulation of memory: Sarsasapogenin improves memory by elevating the low muscarinic acetylcholine receptor density in brains of memory-deficit rat models.” Brain Res. 2005 Oct; 1060(1-2): 26-39.
Xia , Z. et al. Steroidal sapogenins and their derivatives for treating Alzheimer's disease." United States Patent 6,812,213; November 2, 2004.
Cytotoxic & Anticancerous Actions:
Challinor, V., et al. "Steroidal saponins from the roots of Smilax sp.: structure and bioactivity." Steroids. 2012 Apr;77(5):504-11.
Gao, Y., et al. "Mitochondrial apoptosis contributes to the anti-cancer effect of Smilax glabra Roxb."
Toxicol Lett. 2011 Nov 30;207(2):112-20.
Ni, Y., et al. "Mitochondrial ROS burst as an early sign in sarsasapogenin-induced apoptosis in HepG2 cells." Cell Biol Int. 2008 Mar;32(3):337-43.
Trouillas, P., et al. “Structure-function relationship for saponin effects on cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in the human 1547 osteosarcoma cells: a molecular modelling approach of natural molecules structurally close to diosgenin.” Bioorg. Med. Chem. 2005 Feb; 13(4): 1141-9.
Thabrew, M. I., et al. “Cytotoxic effects of a decoction of Nigella sativa, Hemidesmus indicus and Smilax glabra on human hepatoma HepG2 cells.” Life Sci. 2005 Aug; 77(12): 1319-30.
Ooi, L., et al. "Antiviral and anti-proliferative glycoproteins from the rhizome of Smilax glabra Roxb (Liliaceae)." Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(1):185-95.
Sautour, M., et al. "Bioactive steroidal saponins from Smilax medica." Planta Med. 2006 Jun; 72(7): 667-70.
Tewtrakul S, et al. “Anti-HIV-1 protease- and HIV-1 integrase activities of Thai medicinal plants known as Hua-Khao-Yen.” J. Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Apr; 105(1-2): 312-5.
Sautour, M., et al. "Steroidal saponins from Smilax medica and their antifungal activity." J. Nat. Prod. 2005 Oct; 68(10):1 489-93.
Ooi, L. S., et al. “New mannose-binding lectin isolated from the rhizome of Sarsaparilla Smilax glabra Roxb. (Liliaceae).” J. Agric. Food Chem. 2004 Oct; 52(20): 6091-5.
Caceres, A., et al. “Plants used in Guatemala for the treatment of dermatophytic infections. 1. Screening for antimycoctic activity of 44 plant extracts.” J. Ethnopharmacol. 1991; 31(3): 263–76.
Tschesche, R. “Advances in the chemistry of antibiotic substances from higher plants.” H. Wagner and L. Horhammer. Pharmacognosy and Phytochemisty. New York: Springer Verlag, 1971. 274–76.
Fitzpatrick, F. K. “Plant substances active against mycobacterium tuberculosis.” Antibiotics and Chemotherapy 1954; 4(5): 528–36.
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by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is
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Last updated 12-28-2012