Sarsaparilla is a name you might have heard in old-timey cartoons or movies: cowboys are frequently heard ordering a drink called sarsaparilla, sometimes thought of as an old version of rootbeer. But there’s a lot people don’t know about sarsaparilla, starting with the fact that famous drink often didn’t even contain any sarsaparilla.
What is Sarsaparilla?
The sarsaparilla plant is a woody, trailing vine that can grow to 50 meters in length. It is commonly found in central and South America. Its roots, leaves, and berries can all be eaten, but historically it is the sarsaparilla root that has been used for its believed medicinal properties. In fact, since the 1500s, sarsaparilla root has been used for everything from syphilis to skin problems, arthritis, fever, digestive disorders, leprosy, and cancer.
History of the Sarsaparilla Beverage
The drink known as sarsaparilla is typically described as having a root beer flavor. It was often made from sarsaparilla root, or smilax ornata. However, despite the name, it was frequently made not from sarsaparilla, but from a similar plant called sassafras.
While root beer is now just another sugary, carbonated beverage, it was once a lot more complex. Root beer was, in fact, a beer. When colonists arrived in North America, they discovered that the sarsaparilla root and the sassafras root provided a unique flavoring for their beer. The resulting root beer was believed to have a variety of medicinal powers. An 1869 book called Dr. Chase’s Recipes gave a recipe for root beer (which, along with sarsaparilla root, also called for the roots of burdock, yellow dock, dandelion, and spikenard, along with sassafras and spruce oils), and claimed that “families ought to make it every Spring, and drink freely of it for several weeks, and thereby save, perhaps, several dollars in doctors’ bills.”
Natural Autoimmune Support
Many of sarsaparilla root’s health benefits and pharmacological properties are thanks to plant steroids, like sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, and pollinastanol, and saponins, like sarsasaponin, smilasaponin, sarsaparilloside, and sitosterol glucoside.
High levels of endotoxins are related to diseases such as RA psoriasis, gout, and acne. Saponins in particular bind to endotoxins in the gastrointestinal tract, effectively eliminating them.
Supports Healthy-Looking Skin
One study examined 100 different plants in Guatemala and their effect on bacterial skin infections. Of the plants screened as part of the study, sarsaparilla root was listed as one of the most effective plants in fighting bacterial skin infections.
If you want to access any of the potential health benefits, be wary of where you get a bottle of sarsaparilla. The sarsaparilla you can buy in grocery stores today is often made with artificial flavoring; not the sarsaparilla root. But if you want a sarsaparilla drink that can provide the plant’s health benefits, then sarsaparilla root tea might be the solution.
Making Sarsaparilla Root Tea
If you can find dried sarsaparilla roots (in health food stores or online), you can easily turn them into your own sarsaparilla root tea. Like all herbal teas, all it takes to make a sarsaparilla root tea is ground root, boiling water, and (if you prefer) your choice of sweetener. Allow the sarsaparilla root to steep in the boiling water for about 30 minutes, and add honey for a natural sweetener.
You may also want to experiment with sarsaparilla extract, if sarsaparilla root is difficult to find.
What is your favorite way to take sarsaparilla?