SARSAPARILLA ROOT (Smilax species)  

Latin: Smilax species
Chinese: Tu fu ling

WHAT IT DOES: Sarsaparilla root is sweet and bland in taste, and neutral in action.  It removes toxins from the bowel, and reduces inflammation and dampness from the blood, liver, urinary system and skin.

RATING: Yellow, due to limitations is usage.



  • Dried root: three to 12 grams per day
  • 4:1 dried decoction: one to four grams per day
  • 1:5 tincture: two to four milliliters (ml) in water or juice 3 times per day

Sarsaparilla root has been famous in the West since 1574, when a French physician described its use in treating syphilis.  Various Smilax species are used to treat infections and inflammation–especially those affecting the skin and intestines–in many countries including India, China, Europe, the United States, Brazil, Guatemala, and Saudi Arabia.  Because of the historical use for syphilis, many herbalists now use sarsaparilla root for Lyme disease, also caused by a spirochete organism.

Naturopaths believe that sarsaparilla root binds and remove endotoxin from the bowel, perhaps by stimulating liver clearance (Murray & Pizzorno, 1989).  Deng (1994) tells us that endotoxin–chemicals released into the host after breakdown of the cell walls of gram-negative organisms– accords closely with the idea of “pathogenic toxins” in TCM.  His studies have shown that the removal of endotoxin helps control many inflammatory and febrile diseases.

I have found sarsaparilla root to be very useful in treating various skin diseases, especially psoriasis.  Interestingly, psoriasis has been linked with higher circulating levels of endotoxin (Belew et al., 1982).  When the patient shows serious signs of toxicity–greasy yellow tongue, rapid pulse–I sometimes start with a laxative (which also removes endotoxin) for a few days, then follow with pure sarsaparilla powder for a week or so.  I usually follow this with a longer-term formula designed to restore balance to the whole system. We have helped several patients (but not all) achieve achieve remission or semi-remission for several years.

Research Highlights

• In 1942, the New England Journal of Medicine published a controlled study showing that an endotoxin-binding saponin extract of sarsaparilla was effective in reducing psoriasis symptoms (Thurman, 1942, reported in Murray & Pizzorno, 1989).

• Clinical tests in China demonstrated that the Chinese species called Tu fu ling rhizome (Smilax glabra) is effective for treating syphilis in about 90 percent of acute cases and 50 percent of chronic cases (Bensky & Gamble, 1986).  Since Lyme disease is also caused by spirochete organisms, it may prove beneficial in the treatment of this disease as well.  TCM doctors use Tu fu ling rhizome to treat joint pain, turbid urine and jaundice caused by heat and dampness.