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Smilax officinalis - Kunth

Common Name Honduran sarsaparilla
Family Smilacaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards No known toxicity or side-effects have been documented for sarsaparilla; however, ingestion of large dosages of saponins may cause gastrointestinal irritation[318 ].
Habitats Rainforests, where it often climbs high into the trees[318 ].
Range Northwest S. America - Ecuador, Colombia; C. America - Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Smilax officinalis Honduran sarsaparilla

Smilax officinalis Honduran sarsaparilla


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Smillax officinalis, otherwise known as Honduran sarsaparilla, is a tropical plant that can be found in Central America and Honduras. It grows up to 50m long. It is widely used medicinally against sexual impotence, rheumatism, joint pains, headaches, common cold, skin ailments, gout, etc. The roots are dried and used as flavoring in beverages, ice cream, candy, and baked goods.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Smilax officinalis is an evergreen Perennial Climber growing to 25 m (82ft) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Smilax barbillana Cufod. Smilax bernhardii Apt Smilax chiriquensis C.V.Morton Smilax gilgiana Apt Sm

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Root
Edible Uses: Condiment

The root has been used as an ingredient in root beer and other beverages, where it is valued for its foaming properties, not for its flavouring properties[318 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Anodyne  Antiarthritic  Antibacterial  Antibiotic  Antifungal  Antiinflammatory  Antirheumatic  Antitussive  
Blood purifier  Cancer  Depurative  Diaphoretic  Digestive  Diuretic  Eczema  
Febrifuge  Hepatic  Hypotensive  Kidney  Leprosy  Skin  Tonic  

Sarsaparilla root has long been used as a traditional medicine in Central and South America, where it is employed in the treatment of sexual impotence; rheumatism and joint pain; headaches; the common cold; skin ailments, including leprosy; and as a general tonic in cases of physical weakness[318 ]. The plant has become popular as a herbal remedy in many parts of the world and considerable research has been carried out into the medically active compounds in the root. The most important active compounds in the root are a range of plant steroids and saponins; other compounds present include flavonoids[318 ]. The saponins have been shown to facilitate the body's absorption of other drugs and phytochemicals, which accounts for its history of use in herbal formulas as an agent for bioavailability and to enhancement the power and effect of other herbs[318 ]. Clinical research has validated the traditional use of sarsaparilla for skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, and leprosy. In one clinical study with 92 patients it was reported that use of the root improved psoriasis lesions in 62% of cases and completely cleared lesions in 18% of cases. The root's blood cleansing properties are believed to be largely responsible for this, and in particular the steroid sarsaponin, which has been shown to remove endotoxins from the blood[318 ]. Sarsaparilla's effective use in the treatment of leprosy has been documented in a 1959 human trial[318 ]. The effectiveness of sarsaparilla in the treatment of adolescent acne caused by excessive androgens has received some experimental support as well[318 ]. Flavonoids in sarsaparilla have been documented to have immune modulation and liver protective activities[318 ]. Clinical observations in China demonstrated that sarsaparilla was effective (according to blood tests) in about 90% of acute and 50% of chronic cases of syphilis[318 ]. Other studies have show the antibiotic, antifungal and antimycobacterial properties of the root[318 ]. Its anti-inflammatory activity has been demonstrated in several in vitro and in vivo studies[318 ]. The root has been reported to have stimulatory activity on the kidneys in humans and, in chronic nephritis, it was shown to increase the urinary excretion of uric acid[318 ]. Saponins and plant steroids found in many species of plants (including sarsaparilla) can be synthesized into human steroids such as oestrogen and testosterone. This synthesis has never been documented to occur in the human body - only in the laboratory[318 ]. The steroids sarsasapogenin and smilagenin have been claimed to have the ability to treat senile dementia, cognitive dysfunction, and Alzheimer's disease. Any studies to substantiate these claims, however, have not yet been published in peer-reviewed papers[318 ] In modern herbalism, the root is considered anodyne, antibacterial, antibiotic, antifungal, antiinflammatory, blood cleanser, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, digestive, febrifuge, hepatic and tonic[318 ]. Through its reputation as a blood cleanser, the root has had a long history of use for syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases throughout the world. It is also used in the treatment of conditions such as gout, syphilis, gonorrhoea, rheumatism, wounds, arthritis, fever, cough, scrofula, hypertension, digestive disorders, psoriasis, skin diseases, and cancer[318 ]. The root is also widely available in health food stores, with a variety of tablets, capsules, and tincture products sold today. It can be found, both on its own or as an ingredient in various herbal remedies, where it is recommended for skin disorders, libido enhancement, hormone balancing, and sports nutrition formulas. It's also commonly used in herbal preparations as a synergist or bioavailability aid - as it is thought that the saponins in sarsaparilla root increase the absorption of other chemicals in the gut[318 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


Agroforestry Uses: The stems of many Smilax species are covered with prickles and, sometimes, these vines are cultivated to form impenetrable thickets (which are called catbriers or greenbriers)[318 ]. Other Uses None known

Special Uses


References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

The root, when used for medicinal purposes, is long and tuberous-spreading 180 - 250cm long. It is odourless and fairly tasteless[318 ].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed -

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

salsaparrilha, salsaparrilha de minas de gerais, salsaparrilha do mexico, salsaparrilha do para.

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Central America, Honduras.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

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Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Smilax aristolochiifoliaMexican SarsaparillaPerennial Climber5.0 10-12 FLMHSNM240
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Smilax febrifugaEcuadorian SarsaparillaClimber12.0 10-12 FLMHSNM340
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Smilax riparia Perennial Climber0.0 -  LMHSNM20 
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Smilax sieboldii Climber2.0 -  LMHSNM10 
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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References

Links / References

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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Subject : Smilax officinalis  
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