Sarsaparilla is a common name for many plants in the Smilax genus, which contains at least 300 species. It is often used as a general term for Smilax species in the Americas. The species that are most commonly known as sarsaparilla include S. officinalis, S. regelii, S. japicanga and S. febrifuga. These species are very similar, both in appearance and chemical components. Additional common names for sarsaparilla include catbriers, greenbriers and prickly ivys.
Smilax plants are generally climbing vines, often with thorns and woody branches. They are native to a variety of regions throughout the world, most often those with warm, temperate climates. For example, S. officinalis originates from South American countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador.
Sarsaparilla plants typically form dense thickets. Their hooked thorns also allow them to grow up trees, often reaching a height of 30 feet. The leaves are heart-shaped and may reach a length of one foot in some species. Sarsaparilla is dioecious, meaning that an individual plant produces flowers of only one gender. The plants flower in late spring to early summer and the edible berries mature in the fall.
The biologically active components in sarsaparilla include plant steroids and saponins. The phytosteroids include sarsasapogenin, sitosterol, smilagenin and stigmasterol. The saponins in sarsaparilla include sarsaparilloside, sarsasaponin and smilasaponin. These components help increase the bioavailability of other herbs, so sarsaparilla is often added to supplements to enhance their effect.
The most common use of sarsaparilla in dietary supplements is to help manage the levels of toxins in the blood. It is also used to support the immune system and regulate hormones.
Sarsaparilla may be used as a general tonic by supporting hormone levels.
Studies show that sarsaponin can bind to endotoxins and remove them from the body. These toxins are the cell fragments of bacteria, which may cause a variety of conditions.
Sarsaparilla is often used for chronic skin conditions, especially those characterized by itching and rashes. The mechanism for this property is believed to be sarsaponin’s blood-cleansing activity.
Sarsaparilla can help to support healthy inflammation management, where chronic inflammation may affect the joints and immune system.
Inflammatory conditions are generally the most common reason that you may need sarsaparilla. These conditions often affect the skin such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. A high level of endotoxins may also mean that you could benefit from sarsaparilla. Signs caused by this condition include ulcerative colitis and arthritis.
Additional signs that you may need sarsaparilla include a poor appetite, digestive problems and water retention. Poor kidney function is also an indicator that sarsaparilla may help you.
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