What Are The Scientifically-proven Benefits And Side Effects Of Sarsaparilla?

Medically reviewed by Lucas Aoun, ND Lucas Aoun Lucas AounND insta_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health Swathi Handoo MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health Experience: 4 years
Last Updated on

Sarsaparilla is a creeper that is native to the Carribean islands, South America, and the West Indies. Its roots, leaves, stems, and other vegetative parts are used to treat impotence, joint pains, headache, skin issues, syphilis, and leprosy. In this article, you will learn how this herb is beneficial, how you should use it, and who should use it.

Get set to discover one of the world’s oldest detox ingredients!

Sarsaparilla: In Detail

The name ‘sarsaparilla’ (Smilax glabra and other species) or ‘zarzaparrilla’ comes from the Spanish word zarza, which means ‘bramble’ or ‘bush,’ parra, which means ‘vine,’ and illa, which means ‘small.’ Sarsaparilla is a small, brambled vine. It is found in parts of Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, and parts of Asia and Europe (1).

The leaves and roots (rhizomes) of sarsaparilla are used in the tribal and traditional medicine of South and Latin America, China, and Europe. Its root is used to treat general weakness, impotence, joint pains, skin issues, syphilis, liver injury, and cancer (2)!

The phytosteroids, saponins, and flavonoids in sarsaparilla are responsible for these properties (1). Let’s take a deeper look at various aspects of this herb.

We’ll start with its benefits!

What Are The Benefits Of Sarsaparilla?

1. Known To Treat Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

European medicine in the early 1500s used sarsaparilla to treat syphilis. It gradually gained popularity worldwide for treating several sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (1).

Scientific literature mentions sarsaparilla as a traditional remedy for venereal diseases like gonorrhea. Taking the root extract in regulated quantities can tone down the blisters, ulcers, warts, and inflammation around genitals (1).

2. Inhibits Growth And Migration Of Cancer

Experimental studies have demonstrated the anticancer properties of sarsaparilla. Aqueous extracts of this herb contain flavonoids, alkaloids, and phenylpropanoids. These are the bioactive components that have been found to inhibit cancers from proliferation and metastasis (3).

Astilbin, 5-O-caffeoyl shikimic acid, and taxifolin are other active ingredients found in sarsaparilla that alter cytokine (cellular messenger) profiles of lymphocytes and suppress the migration of activated T cells at molecular levels (2).

This aqueous extract could trigger apoptosis, self-destruction, and cell cycle arrest in cancer cell lines in-vivo. Although the precise mechanism of sarsaparilla on cancer cells is yet to be understood, it was found to be effective against colorectal, breast, liver, lung, and a few other cancers (2), (3).

3. Manages Inflammation And Associated Diseases

Manages Inflammation And Associated Diseases
Image: Shutterstock

The biochemical composition of sarsaparilla gives it potent anti-inflammatory properties. Rat studies in 2017 showed that daily oral administration of astilbin (a sarsaparilla-derived flavonol) at 5.3 mg/kg reduced joint damage in rat paws (4).

Astilbin and other phytochemicals found in the sarsaparilla rhizomes can modulate cellular immune responses. They can inhibit hypersensitivity, reduce the infiltration of macrophages (another type of immune system cells), and control the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (4).

Administering natural anti-inflammatory extracts like sarsaparilla might also treat several chronic inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, liver injury, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease, diabetes, ulcerative colitis, eczema, and UTIs (1), (4).

4. Works As An Aphrodisiac And Sexual Stimulant

Works As An Aphrodisiac And Sexual Stimulant
Image: Shutterstock

Traditional medicine uses sarsaparilla as an aphrodisiac. The Chinese used it along with extracts of licorice, fennel, and astragalus to manage impotence (5), (6).

This herb is said to improve erectile dysfunction in men. Its antioxidant properties purify the blood and increase its flow into the penis, leading to a sustaining erection (1), (5).


Sarsaparilla has been fraudulently marketed to contain testosterone and/or similar steroidal hormones.

Although it is a rich source of steroids and saponins, there is not enough proof of the presence of testosterone in sarsaparilla thus far.

5. The Ultimate Detox Drink Option

Oxidative stress is for real! Exposure to various pollutants, chemicals, carcinogens, and free radicals can wreak havoc on your body systems. Oxidative stress comes into play when there is an imbalance between the free radicals and antioxidants in your body (7).

In such crises, natural antioxidants or booster supplements can come to your rescue. Sarsaparilla is one such herb. It can stimulate normal cell growth and prevent cancer as its rhizome extract is high in glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants in our bodies (7).

Sarsaparilla extract can purify your blood by eliminating the free radicals. It can strengthen your immunity and accelerate recovery from cold, cough, and acute infections. Its rhizomes and fresh leaves are often used in detox drinks for this reason (7).

But what is in its rhizomes or leaves that detoxifies your body, improves vigor and vitality, and prevents cancer? The active ingredients.

Want to know what they are? Scroll to the next section to find out!

The Biochemical Composition Of Sarsaparilla

Most of the therapeutic properties of sarsaparilla are attributed to the saponins and steroids found in it. The main ingredients identified in its parts are essential oils, acetyl-parigenin, astilbin, ß-sitosterol, diosgenin, engeletin, eucryphin, eurryphin, isoastilbin, isoengetitin, kaempferol, parigenin, parillin, pollinastanol, and resveratrol (1).

It also contains dihydroquercetin, glucopyranosides, sarasaponin, sarsaparilloside, sarsaponin, sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, smitilbin, stigmasterol, taxifolin, titogenin, caffeoyl-shikimic acid, and ferulic acid (1).

How can you see these biochemicals in action? Well, the easiest way to get these phytochemicals to work on your body is by consuming sarsaparilla.

Here’s how you can do that.

How To Consume Sarsaparilla

You can consume sarsaparilla orally or use it as a topical agent on your skin (8).

As a traditional remedy, drink half to one cup of sarsaparilla root decoction two to three times daily (1).

Alternatively, you can consume 3-4 grams of sarsaparilla root powder or its equivalent in the form of capsules. Another option is taking 5-10 mL of a standard tincture or liquid extract daily (1). You can buy the powder here, the capsules here, and the liquid extract here.

Note: We recommend medical consultation while dealing with these supplements.

While you consult your doctor about these supplements, you also need to know what happens if sarsaparilla does not work, and what if it does not suit your body. Above all, when should you NOT take sarsaparilla? Find answers to these questions below.

What Could Be The Side Effects Of Sarsaparilla?

No known toxicity or side effects have been documented for sarsaparilla yet. But, an overdose may cause GI tract irritation.

Those involved in the commercial production of sarsaparilla may develop asthma as they are exposed to a lot of dust in this process (8).

Also, keep the following points in mind (1), (8):

  • Do not inject it directly into the bloodstream. It can interact with your red blood cells, which could be fatal/lethal.
  • Sarsaparilla may interact with (increase/decrease the absorption of) some drugs.
  • If you are on CVD (cardiovascular disease) or insomnia medication, consult your doctor about the dosage and requirement of this herbal medicine.
  • Not enough information is out there about its safety for pregnant and lactating women. Hence, stay safe and avoid use.

The Bottom Line

Sarsaparilla is traditional medicine, and you can’t go wrong with it (well, for the most part). From herpes to headache, this herb can effectively control acute and chronic disorders.

Its unique biochemical composition gives it anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anticancer, antioxidant, stimulant, and blood-purifying properties. Under proper medical guidance, opt for a suitable form of sarsaparilla supplement to reap its health benefits.

Make sarsaparilla tea a part of your morning detox routine and feel the difference. Tell us about your experiences and post your queries and feedback in the comments box below.

Happy detoxing!


  1. Sarsaparilla” Technical Data Report for SARSAPARILLA, Herbal Secrets of the Rainforest.
  2. Sarsaparilla (Smilax Glabra Rhizome) Extract Inhibits Migration…” PLoS ONE, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Sarsaparilla (Smilax Glabra Rhizome) Extract Inhibits Cancer…” Cancer Prevention Research, US National Library of Medicine.
  4. Astilbin from Smilax glabra Roxb. Attenuates Inflammatory…” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Asian herbals and aphrodisiacs used for managing ED” Translational Andrology and Urology, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. In vitro effect of medicinal plants used to treat erectile” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, ScienceDirect.
  7. Combating Oxidative Stress with Sarsaparilla” Health and Wellness, Wayne State University
  8. Sarsaparilla as a Treatment for Psoriasis” Health Psychology Home Page, Psychology, Department, Vanderbilt University
Was this article helpful?
Lucas Aoun is a naturopathic doctor from Melbourne, Australia, with 8 years of experience. He is multiskilled and at the forefront of scientific research. He has a strong passion for optimizing health and wellness from a holistic perspective.

Read full bio of Lucas Aoun
Latest Articles