Sarsaparilla (also spelt sarsparilla or sasparilla) is a vinelike woody plant that’s indigenous to the Central and South America rainforests, Mexico, various parts of Australia, the Caribbean, Jamaica and Southeast Asia. Central and South American tribes used sarsaparilla to treat various skin conditions, rheumatism, cure sexual impotence and increase energy.
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The use of sarsaparilla in herbal medicine practices gained popularity in the 16th century, after it was brought from Mexico to Europe. European doctors believed the plant had diuretic and purifying power and could serve as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases. In 1850, the U.S. Pharmacopoeia certified it for the treatment for syphilis. Since that time, sarsaparilla has been regarded as a tonic herb, boasting antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and aphrodisiac properties. It’s sold in various speciality markets and online in the form of capsules, tablets, tinctures, powdered root and dried roots.
Sarsaparilla contains components of the amino acids methionine and cysteine, beta-sitosterol, calcium, cetyl-alcohol, chromium, cobalt, copper, fatty acids, glucose, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, sodium, sulphur, tin, zinc and vitamins A, C, D and B-complex.
Sarsaparilla is considered by some to be a blood purifier with the ability to counteract toxins and other contaminants from the blood. Additionally, it is said to act as a detoxifier, encouraging the body to eliminate toxic build-up through urinary excretion and sweating. Its ability to increase the excretion of uric acid makes it effective in the treatment of such conditions as urinary tract infections, gout and other complications that involve the kidney and liver.
Sarsaparilla is often used to offset fever and increase the body’s strength and resistance. It’s also employed as an anti-inflammatory to alleviate conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism. Its antibacterial properties are supposedly effective in neutralising various internal and external infections, including abscesses, acne, boils, eczema, psoriasis, wounds and other disorders of the skin. It is also thought to help maintain the balance of the glandular system.
Sarsaparilla contains the plant steroids (steroidal saponins), which some believe can mirror the work of human hormones. However, the body is not able to transform plant steroids into human hormones, and the claim is yet to be validated by scientific evidence. Such perceived properties have resulted in the advertisement of sarsaparilla as a sexual enhancer for men and as an anabolic steroid replacement, for athletes and bodybuilders (sometimes under the name Smilax).
Many of the therapeutic claims associated with sarsaparilla lack sufficient evidence. Consult your doctor before using sarsaparilla, because the herb has been known to augment the potency and rate of other medications; consequently altering the effectiveness of specific dosages, which can result in dangerous complications.
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