There are approximately 350 species worldwide in the genus. This particular species is a woody perennial climbing vine indigenous to South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived, they found the indigenous tribes using beverages made with sarsaparilla as a general health tonic. The name itself is from the Spanish: sarza, meaning brambles, and parilla, meaning vine.
This sarsaparilla plant has been used in Jamaica for centuries for its believed health benefits. Today, its use is mostly as a base for tonic drinks that are said to act as aphrodisiacs and to increase sexual stamina and libido. Despite the lack of concrete scientific research that proves these varying benefits, it is widely believed to be useful in the treatment of syphilis, asthma, rheumatism, gouts, fevers, colds, arthritis, gas and persistent belly aches. Many use the herb to help increase muscle mass due to the high levels of testosterone found in the plant: for that reason, it is recommended that women do not consume this herb regularly due to its high testosterone content, which may lead to more manly features such as growth of facial hair…
Sarsaparilla seems to be another case where science is slowly learning that many of the traditional uses are valid.
In Jamaica, Sarsaparilla is remembered by many as the perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer day. The plant’s root is boiled in water, in a clean container for about 20 to 30 minutes. The dark liquid that remains is then covered and left to ferment for at least a day when it is then sweetened with honey and consumed as a beverage in moderate amounts.
Sarsasaponin, Sarsaparilloside, Arsasapogenin, various quantities of starch and flavonoids, sarsapac acid, dextrose, certain fatty acids.