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Drugs and diseases reference index

Herbs & Supplements «Sarsaparilla Root and Herb Information»

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Sarsaparilla is a natural herb that has been used by many individuals in connection with liver disease and syphilis. However, it is most commonly used in connection with eczema, psoriasis, and other skin disorders.

Sarsaparilla is native to South America, Latin America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean and was introduced to Europe in the late 15th century. Unlike the sarsaparilla tree which is primarily found in the Northern hemisphere, sarsaparilla is a vine-like plant that has wood-like stems and long thorns. Sarsaparilla was exported to Europe before 1530 from Mexico. It was used in the sixteenth-century for syphilis and rheumatism. Sarsaparilla was used in the 1850s for syphilis in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia. Sarsaparilla products were promoted as blood purifiers, tonics, diuretics, sweat inducers, and for many other applications and was often used in patent medicines. With claims implying it contains testosterone, sarsaparilla has been used as a male sexual rejuvenator and an anabolic steroid replacement in natural body-building formulas.

Sarsaparilla contains steroidal saponins, such as sarsasapogenin, which some researcher claim can duplicate the action of some human hormones. However, this purported property of sarsaparilla remains has not been substantiated by empirical evidence. Sarsaparilla also contains beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol, which may contribute to the anti-inflammatory property of this herb. A few reports suggest that sarsaparilla has both anti-inflammatory and liver-protecting effects. Similar findings on the effect of sarsaparilla on psoriasis can also be found in European literature.

Dosage and Administration

A recommended dosage for sarsaparilla is two or three times a day as a tea or a liquid extract. To make sarsaparilla tea, soak 1,000 mg to 4,000 mg (one gram to 4 grams) of chopped or shredded dried root for 10 minutes in about 8 ounces of hot water, and then filter before drinking. In its alcohol-based liquid supplement form it is recommended to take 2-3 teaspoons of sarsaparilla extract up to two or three times a day.

It is common to find capsules containing powdered sarsaparilla root. It is also available in a number of combination oral herbal products. The recommended doses can differ according to manufacturer. Follow the directions on the package you purchase very carefully.

Although it is used in other parts of the world in connection with acne, eczema, fungal infections, and similar skin conditions, it is not usually used in the United States for this purpose. Sarsaparilla can be applied to the inflamed or infected skin in a tea form by slashing it on as a wash or as a compress. Topically it seems to be effective against itching and infections and seems to possess slight antibacterial properties. However, there are many other commercially available topical antibacterial agents which are more effective.

Supporting Literature

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.

Hobbs C. Sarsaparilla, a literature review. HerbalGram 1988;17:1, 10-15.

Rafatullah S, Mossa JS, Ageel AM, et al. Hepatoprotective and safety evaluation studies on sarsaparilla. Int J Pharmacognosy 1991;29:296-301.