Vine-like plants in the sarsaparilla family are found in many parts of the world. The most common form, Smilax officinalis, is grown primarily in Jamaica. Other common forms include S. glyciphylla (Australia), S. japicanga (Brazil), S. glabra (Sri Lanka), S. china (China), and S. luzonensis (Malaysia). The root is the part used medicinally.

Traditionally, various forms of sarsaparilla have been use to treat cancer, psoriasis, eczema, and other skin diseases. These uses are all tied together by an outdated treatment concept known as “blood purification.” It was thought that numerous ailments, including skin diseases, cancer, and other conditions, were due to impurities in the blood. Herbs said to have blood purifying properties, such as sarsaparilla, were used to correct this traditionally acknowledged problem.

Additionally, sarsaparilla was recommended for joint pain, “female problems,” and syphilis.

An entirely different plant, Aralia nudicaulis, is sometimes called “Wild Sarsaparilla.” However, it is more closely related to ginseng than to the forms of sarsaparilla discussed here.

Sarsaparilla should also not be confused with sassafras, a flavoring traditionally used in root beer.