Ask the Pharmacist: Sarsaparilla herb is good for more than just root beer

Suzy Cohen

Cowboys drank sarsaparilla soda in the Old West! When you first hear “sarsaparilla,” you might think of soda too. This herb comes from the roots of a a woody vine called Smilax, which belongs to the Lily family. It’s still is used as a popular flavoring of cola and root beer in some countries. If you want to pronounce it out loud, just say “Sass-Parilla” to keep it easy. 

More:Ask The Pharmacist: Diet drinks may increase stroke and disability

Another cola flavoring – aside from sarsaparilla – was the coca leaf, which gives us cocaine. In 1885, Coca-Cola was initially put into marketplaces with trace amounts of cocaine, about 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of flavoring syrup. Coke wasn’t totally free of cocaine until 1929. That’s how they got the name … it was named it for its two medicinal ingredients, which were coca leaves and kola nuts.  

Bare umbels remain after the drupes disappear from wild sarsaparilla.

Sarsaparilla has nothing to do with cocaine. It is considered good liver support and helps protect the liver from damage. Your liver is under tremendous assault and works 24/7. It has to filter out the toxins from our environment, and all the chemicals from the food you eat, as well as your medications and alcohol or nicotine if you consume that.


The liver is your detoxification organ, and sarsaparilla, can definitely help you. Several animal studies have shown that rats fed a diet containing sarsaparilla herb, have significantly less damage to their liver as compared to control rodents.  


Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease, which can be very frustrating and painful. Irritated skin has a tendency to get infected, because it has lost its normal epidermal barrier, so getting a bad infection in an area of active psoriasis or eczema is unfortunately quite common. Sarsaparilla reduces risk of these infections and improves the inflammation associated with the condition thanks to “astilbin” a biologically active compound in sarsaparilla. People apply topical poultices, creams, salves or take the herb internally. 

I write to millions of people a week, so be sure you check with someone in-the-know about your individual case before taking this because I cannot medically advise.

Some of our boomers will remember “sarsaparilla” soda but it’s not available in the US anymore.  Even still, the root beer or sodas that are still available do not contain actual sarsaparilla, only man-made flavorings that mimic the taste of the natural herb.

The best way to take this herb is by tea, capsule, extract, cream or tincture. Sometimes, lower quality formulas contain a completely different herb called “Indian Sarsaparilla” (from Hemidesmus) which is not related to true sarsaparilla, despite the similar name. So look for “smilax” or “smilacaceae” as the genus name on the “supplement facts box” or product label while shopping.
There are very few reported side effects of sarsaparilla. that doesn’t mean there are none. They’re just not reported. The most common reactions might be allergic reactions or perhaps indigestion, itchiness or rash. 

More:Ask The Pharmacist: Photoshop your face with collagen protein

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit