Sarsaparilla, Jamaica

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Sarsaparilla, Jamaica

Botanical Name: Smilax ornata
Family: N.O. Liliaceae

Synonyms: Smilax Medica. Red-bearded Sarsaparilla.
Part Used: Root.
Habitat: Central America, principally Costa Rica.

Description: This plant derived its name from being exported to Europe through Jamaica. The word Sarsaparilla comes from the Spanish Sarza, meaning a bramble, and parilla, a vine, in allusion to the thorny stems of the plant. This is a non-mealy Sarsaparilla. It is a large perennial climber, rhizome underground, large, short, knotted, with thickened nodes and roots spreading up to 6 or 8 feet long. Stems erect, semiwoody, with very sharp prickles 1/2 inch long. Leaves large, alternate stalked, almost evergreen with prominent veins, seven nerved mid-rib very strongly marked. Flowers and fruit not known. Cortex thick and brownish, with an orange red tint; when chewed it tinges the saliva, and gives a slightly bitter and mucilaginous taste, followed by a very acrid one; it contains a small proportion of starch, also a glucoside, sarsaponin, sarsapic acid, and fatty acids, palmitic, stearic, behenic, oleic and linolic.

Jamaica Sarsaparilla was introduced in the middle of the sixteenth century as a remedy for syphilis, and later came to be used for other chronic diseases, specially rheumatism. It is a mild gastric irritant due to its saponin content. The smoke of Sarsaparilla was recommended for asthma. It is also very useful as a tonic, alterative, diaphoretic and diuretic. Its active principle is a crystalline body, Parillin or Smilacin.

Preparations and Dosages: Powdered root, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Fluid extract, U.S.P., 1/2 to 1 drachm. Fluid extract, B.P., 2 to 4 drachms. Solid extract, 10 to 20 grains. Compound solution, 2 to 8 drachms. Compound syrup, U.S.P., 4 drachms.

Smilax officinalis has a twining stem, angular and prickly; young shoots unarmed; leaves ovate, oblong, acute, cordate, smooth, 1 foot long; petioles 1 inch long, having tendrils above the base. This plant grows in New Granada, on the banks of Magdaline near Bajorgne. Commercially it consists of very long roots, with a thick bark, grey or brown colour. Almost odourless. Taste mucilaginous. The deep orange-tinted roots are the best.

Constituents: Salseparin, starch, colouring matter, essential oil chloride of potassium, bassorin, albumen, pectic and ascitic acids, and salts of lime, oxide of iron, potassa and magnesia. It is said to be the source of Honduras Sarsaparilla and is considered the best of all Sarsaparillas. It is exported from the bay of Honduras in over 2 feet long roots folded into a sort of hank, with a few rootlets attached, grey or reddy brown, with mealy cortex. It has the same properties as the other varieties, but if alcohol is added to the infusions of the root it will greatly increase their medicinal qualities.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Alterative, tonic. Used in chronic skin diseases, rheumatism, passive dropsy.

Dosages: Powder, 20 grains. Infusion or syrup, 4 fluid ounces.