What Is Sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla capsules, tablets, powder, and tincture

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Sarsaparilla is an herbal remedy used to ease arthritis, fight infections, relieve skin problems, and may even help treat cancer. Also known as Smilax glabra, the supplement is rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenolic acids—beneficial plant compounds with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-aging properties.

A woody, tropical vine in the Smilacaceae family originating in Asia, sarsaparilla comes in several different forms known by the botanical name Smilax.

It's also common to refer to sarsaparilla by the name of the country where it's found (e.g., Chinese sarsaparilla or Mexican sarsaparilla). However, Indian sarsaparilla—also known as fake sarsaparilla—is another plant altogether.

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the FDA does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF.

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn't mean that they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and to check in about any potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active Ingredient(s): Astilbin, phenylpropanoids, phenolic acids, flavonoids
  • Alternate Name(s): Greenbriar, catbrier, greenbrier
  • Legal Status: Herbal supplement
  • Suggested Dose: Four drops in one teaspoon (tsp) of water, three times daily
  • Safety Considerations: Taking with digoxin or bismuth subsalicylate, or in pregnant or breastfeeding people

Uses of Sarsaparilla

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or doctor. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

The sarsaparilla root has been used medicinally for centuries. Many parts of the sarsaparilla plant are used as flavorings in foods and beverages. Interestingly, in the United States, the once-common drink named sarsaparilla didn’t contain any ingredients from the plant; it contained flavoring from the sassafras plant.

Treating Cancer

Sarsaparilla is believed to be an antioxidant, which can lower your body’s levels of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules out of balance, and high levels of them are believed to contribute to many diseases, including cancer.

While several studies suggest that sarsaparilla extract can slow the growth and migration of cancer cells and possibly even kill them, these results were seen in mice and not conducted in human trials.

Researchers have identified several mechanisms they believe are at work in the anti-cancer processes of sarsaparilla. Preliminary studies have found that sarsaparilla was able to stop cancer from spreading by inhibiting the signaling of transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-ß1).

Other research by some of the same scientists suggested sarsaparilla promoted beneficial changes in cancerous cells by slowing growth and increasing cancer cell death.

However, these findings lack sufficient evidence and need further investigation in human trials.

Protecting the Skin

Sarsaparilla’s antioxidant status may also make it beneficial to your skin. In a Korean study, researchers found that the root appeared to significantly inhibit oxidative damage and slow some processes associated with aging. Sarsaparilla also seemed to increase several beneficial substances in the body and decrease destructive ones, which could contribute to younger and healthier-looking skin.

Additionally, one study suggested that astilbin, a flavonoid in sarsaparilla, shows promise as a treatment for psoriasis.

Inflammation and Pain

A few preliminary studies support the claims that sarsaparilla is an anti-inflammatory, which could mean it has a role in treating inflammatory diseases, such as hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Another study suggested that two extracts of the sarsaparilla plant could suppress multiple causes of inflammation, including nitric oxide, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and interleukin-6.

Kidney Function

Chinese researchers looked at the potential of astilbin, derived from Chinese sarsaparilla, for improving kidney function.

Oxidative stress, associated with free radicals and nitric oxide, can harm the kidneys. As an antioxidant, astilbin appears to suppress oxidative stress and, thereby, offers some kidney protection.

These findings may be used to support claims of sarsaparilla's traditional detoxifying effect. However, the need to detox isn't supported by medical findings in people without severe liver and/or kidney disease. Therefore, it is important to be careful with products claiming to have detoxifying effects. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before using any such supplements.

Other Conditions

Sarsaparilla has also been used in folk medicine to also address other health issues, such as:

None of these claims are proven by medical science, and sarsaparilla hasn’t been studied for all of them. Some of these uses have limited support from preliminary studies, but evidence is insufficient. Other claims have been disproven.

What Are the Side Effects of Sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla is generally considered a safe supplement with few side effects. As with all supplements, an allergic reaction is possible.

Common Side Effects

There are few known side effects of sarsaparilla. The most common side effect is stomach irritation.

If you should experience this side effect while taking sarsaparilla, stop using it and consult with your healthcare provider.

Severe Side Effects

There are no severe side effects of sarsaparilla documented. One study noted that sarsaparilla did not show toxicity at the cellular level. However, as with all supplements, there is a risk of allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, is possible.

Signs of anaphylaxis include swelling of the tongue and throat and hives. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.


The lack of research on sarsaparilla means there is also a lack of information on how it may affect certain groups or populations. It is not known how sarsaparilla will affect all health conditions.

There is no data on sarsaparilla’s safety for pregnant or breastfeeding people, so these populations should avoid using it.

Sarsaparilla tablets
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage: How Much Sarsaparilla Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

When taking a capsule, it is recommended to take one to four grams of dried root. If you are taking a sarsaparilla tincture, the suggested dose is five to 10 milliliters (mL) per day.

These doses are only suggestions. Always discuss the dosage amount with your healthcare provider.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla has no known upper limit. The lack of research and clinical data gives no evidence of what's considered too much.

When considering using sarsaparilla, it is best to discuss dosage with your healthcare provider.


Sarsaparilla may interact with several drugs. However, because of the small amount of research on sarsaparilla and its components, there may be other drugs with which it may interact.

Digoxin is a drug that helps the heart. Sarsaparilla may affect how much of this drug is absorbed into the body. If more digoxin is potentially absorbed, its effects may increase.

It is important to carefully read a supplement's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients and how much of each is included. Review the supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

How to Store Sarsaparilla

When storing supplements, it is good to follow packing instructions. For storage and discard directions for sarsaparilla, follow the instructions on the packaging.

Similar Supplements

Supplements that may have similar effects to sarsaparilla may be but are not limited to:

  • Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
  • Celery
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
  • Nettle (Urtica dioica)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Boswellia (Boswellia serrata)
  • Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa)
  • Devil's claw (Proboscidea parviflora)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Sources of Sarsaparilla & What To Look For

You can find sarsaparilla supplements in numerous forms. They can be found on the internet and in various grocery stores.

Modern forms of the drink called sarsaparilla don’t generally contain any part of the plant—it may not even contain the plant that the drink was made from historically (sassafras).

Instead, most of them now contain artificial flavors. That means drinking sarsaparilla soda will not give you the same benefits that consuming the root might.

Sarsaparilla Supplements

Sarsaparilla supplements come in capsule, tablet, tincture, and powder forms. These supplements are available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription.

Use caution when purchasing supplements, especially through the internet. The FDA does not regulate these.


Clinical studies have not verified the many traditional medicinal uses of sarsaparilla. There is early research on a few of the suspected health benefits of sarsaparilla, including effects on cancer, inflammation, skin issues, and kidney health. While preliminary research is promising, more clinical data is necessary to validate any claim of potential health benefits of sarsaparilla.

It is important to discuss taking sarsaparilla with your healthcare provider. There is little information on dosing, precautions, and interactions. For this reason, it is not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding people.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does sarsaparilla tea offer any benefits?

    There is limited information suggesting sarsaparilla tea can offer health benefits. While preliminary research has shown some improved skin protection, reduced inflammation and pain, improved kidney function, and cancer treatment, more evidence is needed to confirm these claims.

  • Where can you buy sarsaparilla root?

    Online storefronts may sell sarsaparilla root by mail, but it is unlikely that the root is available at your local pharmacy or drug store. Sarsaparilla is more often sold in the form of a capsule, tablet, powder, or tincture.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Dawn Sheldon, RN
Dawn Sheldon, RN, is a registered nurse and health writer. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and empowering others.