Sarsaparilla is a woody, tropical vine that’s found in Mexico, South America, Jamaica, the Caribbean, Honduras, and the West Indies. It comes in several different forms that are all known by the botanical name Smilax. Its other common names include Liseron epineux, Liseron piquant, Salsaparilha, Zarzaparrilla, Khao yern, and Jupicanga, among others.

It’s also common to refer to sarsaparilla with the name of the country where it’s found (Chinese sarsaparilla or Mexican sarsaparilla, for instance). Sarsaparilla is not to be confused, however, with Indian sarsaparilla—also known as fake sarsaparilla—which is another plant altogether. Medicinally, sarsaparilla root has been used for centuries in old folk medicine and alternative medicine to treat the following conditions:

  • Preventing and ​treating cancer
  • Lowering inflammation
  • Increasing sex drive
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Improving weight loss
  • Treating skin problems (such as dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis)
  • Detoxifying the body
  • Relieving digestive problems
  • Improving kidney health
  • Increasing muscle mass from working out
  • Treating ​syphilis

Scientific studies have shown sarsaparilla to be effective in the following uses:

  • Treating cancer
  • Protecting the skin
  • Lessening inflammation and pain
  • Improving kidney function

Sarsaparilla is believed to be an antioxidant, which means that it can lower your body’s levels of free radicals. Free radicals are essentially molecules that are out of balance, and high levels of them are believed to contribute to many diseases, including ​cancer​.
It has been used medicinally for hundreds of years by the people native to Central and South America who found that it relieved rheumatism, general physical weakness, sexual impotence, headaches, colds, joint pain and skin problems.

Sarsaparilla root is globally recognized for medicinal properties. Since it was first introduced to the Western world, sarsaparilla has been used to treat gout, gonorrhea, open wounds, arthritis, cough, fever, hypertension, pain, a lack of sexual desire, indigestion, and even certain forms of cancer. More serious conditions have also been treated with sarsaparilla root. In the Amazon, some tribes used it as a treatment for leprosy by ingesting it as well as using it externally.