Sarsaparilla in Herbal Medicine
Native to South and Central America, sarsaparilla (smilax) was introduced in Europe in 16th century and since then it has been used in medicinal purposes. The name comes from two Spanish words - "zarza" and "parilla” - that describe the thorny wines of the plant. Sarsaparilla usually climbs with its wooden stems along the walls and fences, its petiolate leaves growing opposite to each other. The size and shape of the plant’s leaves varies depending on their age. The root is long and rigid, consisting of aligneous centre, with brownish corky bark, furrowed and with annular cracks, and has typical aromatic odour. The smilax genus includes several hundred species growing worldwide.
The herb has a good adaptability to the wide range of climatic conditions. It grows well in poorly or well drained soil, though prefers it acid and sandy. Sarsaparilla is shade-tolerant and is found in climax forests throughout the world.
Sarsaparilla dried root is used for flavouring of beverages, and medicinal preparations (including homeopathic). To produce the needed extract, the fresh root is dried and boiled.
The variations of sarsaparilla market forms include infusions, powder, and syrup. S. officinalis is the species mostly favoured for the commercial use.
As of today, no profound investigation has yet been made of the chemical properties of the sarsaparilla’s constituents. Nevertheless, a great number of flavonoids and a volatile oil, and tannic acid have been found in the herb in decent amounts. These chemicals empower sarsaparilla with Alterative, anti-rheumatic, diuretic, diaphoretic and tonic properties.
Indigenous tribes in South America have been using sarsaparilla tonic properties in various herbal preparations since old times. The Aztecs found the plant to be effective against syphilis, chronic skin ailments and subsequent v ulcerations. In modern herbal medicine the extracts of the herb are used as treatment to rheumatism, scrofula, skin diseases (especially those with much irritation, such as psoriasis) and thrush. The syrup made of sarsaparilla is applied against syphilis, pseudo-syphilis, mescurio-syphilis and struma in all its forms. Due to the present of certain chemicals, the herb is known to aid testosterone activity in the body, to be a powerful blood-purifier and alternative, and to produce anti-inflammatory effects. It is often used to treat impotence, menopausal problems (due to hormone-like action) depression, and chronic hepatic disorders. Also, Chinese research showed that the root has an effect in treating leptospirosis, a rare disease transmitted to humans by rats.
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