Back To Plant Files

Common Name: False Sarsaparilla | Scientific Name: Aralia Nudicaulis

Family Name: Araliaceae


When the White Man arrived to North America, there were people living here and they had a crazy thing called “their own civilization”. Though they were pretty aggressively exterminated, not before the White Man learned what they could from their victims. This would include knowledge of Aralia nudicaulis.

When I look at a traditional cultures list of herbal remedies, the ones with potential health stimulating capacity jump out at me. That would be the case with Aralia nudicaulis. It is a kissing cousin to Siberian ginseng, Korean Ginseng, and American Ginseng. That’s right, its from the Ginseng family. Long ago science learned that Panax ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng, had the peculiar capacity to stimulate health. It was one of the first Valerogens to be identified by modern science. After that, it became clear that this whole tribe of plants had this capacity.

I researched this plant for my PhD, and, concluded that it was yet another opportunity for well being, if a person was in search of something to cause strong health!


Fact Sheet
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Eclectic Physician’s Notes

Fact Sheet

Synonyms: false sarsaparilla, wild sarsaparilla, shot bush, small spikenard, wild liquorice, rabbit root

Part used: root

Chemical Content: steroids, sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, pollinastrenol, glycosides, saponins, sarsasaponin parillin, smilasaponin, smilacin, sarsaparilloside, sitosterol glucoside.

Safety Rating: approved for food use by the FDA

Available: gathered in the wild, nature food stores

The term sarsaparilla is a term that applies to several species of perennial climbers that produce a medicinal root used in herbal medicine with a specific action on the male gonads. The American sarsaparilla was used first by the Native Americans to fire up the family jewels and then by the Europeans who introduced to it on their first visits to the new world.

The frontiersmen all knew its reputation and passed this information on to the rest of the world. The plant grows wild from Canada all the way into the Southern United States and can be gathered in the wild readily or purchased from nature food stores. The plant is said to have a noticeable effect on the function of the gonads, with increased vigor and sexual stamina.

Sarsaparilla offers the unique feature of making other drugs more readily absorbed into the body and as such it has been used as a companion aphrodisiac. The famed root tea, made out of sarsaparilla, sassafras, and ginseng, is probably considered as potent as it is due to sarsaparilla’s ability to main line herbs into the body.

Chapter from My PhD Thesis

Part used

Chemical Constituents
Significant phytochemicals include starch, pectin, resin, sugar, and volatile oil. (7)

Used in decoction or syrup.

Aralia nudicaulis, known as American or wild sarsaparilla, can be found growing in moist woodlands, in the Northern and Middle United States, and as far south as Tennessee and South Carolina . The plant is usually found under stands of deciduous trees. It was widely used by the North American tribes (Huron, Illinois , Miami , Delaware , Penobscot, Montaignais, Mohegan, Chippewa, Menomini, Meskwaki, Ojibwe, Potawatami, Tete de Boule, and Iroquois) as a medicine. In 1637, Father Sagard, speaking of the Huron, said this. “I inquired of them respecting the chief medicinal plants and roots which they used for curing their illnesses and among other they esteem the one called Oscar (Aralia nudicaulis) which does wonders in healing all kinds of wounds, ulcers, and sores .” (1)

After Native knowledge of the plant passed to the colonials, it became a popular domestic remedy. Colonials saw the drug as having healing, pectoral, sudorific, stimulant, diaphoretic, cordial, and depurative activity. Bruised roots were used in a poultice for wounds and ulcers. Fomentations and cataplasms were used for cutaneous affections, erysipelas, and ringworm. An infusion or decoction was seen as a powerful substitute for Sarsaparilla (Smilax ssp) and was used in all diseases characterised as diseases of the blood (syphilitic complaints, chronic rheumatism, and cancer). When chronic disease was at the root of stomach problems, pain, cachexia, skin problems, and chronic catarrh, the drug was used. As a pectoral agent (coughs, catarrh) both roots and berries were used in syrups, cordials, and decoctions. The cordial of spikenard was recommended for gout, and the juice or essential oil for earache and deafness. (2)

Eclectic uses (2–7)
Alterative, gentle stimulant, diaphoretic, pectoral, depurative, vulnerary.

All chronic diseases leading to cachexia.

Chronic diseases of a cachexic character, (scrofula, cancer, carcinomatous diathesis), secondary or tertiary syphilis, cutaneous syphilitic complaints, herpetic affections of a systemic taint, chronic rheumatism.

Chronic rheumatism, chronic mercurial rheumatism, rheumatic conditions with a cutaneous element.

Chronic diseases resulting in pain, pain associated with cancer, shingles.

Pulmonary diseases, pectoral affections including coughs, colds, catarrhal affections, phthisis, pain in the thorax arising from chronic inflammation of the respiratory organs.

Shingles, old ulcers, indolent ulcers, various chronic skin diseases (eczema, psoriasis), shingles.
The drug from Selye’s perspective

State of Resistance
The drug was used to raise resistance to acute infections including coughs and colds. It was used to raise resistance to chronic infections, as in tuberculosis and syphilis. It was used to raise resistance to cancer, chronic rheumatism, chronic mercurial rheumatism, and chronic skin disease.

State of Exhaustion
The drug was used when resistance failed and State of Exhaustion set in (i.e. when tuberculosis became phthisis, cancer became cancerous diathesis, syphilis progressed to secondary and tertiary syphilis, or rheumatism developed systemic manifestations). When the signs of State of Exhaustion were in place (ulcers, indolent wounds, non-healing ulcers, wasting, joint abnormalities, mucous membrane abnormalities, etc.) the drug was used.

Adaptation Energy
The Eclectics said that drug increased Vis conservatrix and used Aralia nudicaulis to raise resistance to chronic debilitating disease (syphilis, tuberculosis, rheumatism, etc.) The drug was used when resistance to these chronic diseases failed and State of Exhaustion set in. Lastly, the drug was used topically to inspire healing of wounds and non-healing sores. The drug was used to augment the GAS, which suggests it increases adaptation energy.

Brekhman’s Adaptogen Criterion
An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism.

According to the Eclectics, the drug is safe. (2–7) It is listed as safe in contemporary literature. (3)

The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific i.e. it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature.

Clinically the drug was used to increase resistance to bacterial and viral infection, cancer, autoimmune disease, and mercury poisoning. (2–7)

An adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the foregoing pathological changes.

Clinically, the drug was used to normalise physiological abnormalities associated with State of Exhaustion (gastric ulceration, skin and mucous membrane ulceration, joint abnormalities, and wasting). It was also used to normalise perverted immune function (hypo, hyper, and auto). (2–7)

The drug exhibits properties consistent with Brekhman’s definition of an adaptogen.

Aralia nudicaulis is curious. It was as popular as Panax quinquefolium amongst the Native Americans, the colonials, and the Eclectic physicians. Some might argue that during the colonial period it was more popular than Panax quinquefolium. It was reported to be effective at remedying life-threatening disease. Doctors and lay healers alike sung its virtues. However, despite its prominence in early North America medicine, it has entirely disappeared from common usage.

Its prior uses, combined with its placement in the Araliaceae family, suggest it is a drug worth investigation. Being closely allied with Panax ginseng, Panax quinquefolium, and Eleutherococcus senticosus the drug is likely to display adaptogenic properties.

Potential clinical applications
The drug may have a role in raising resistance to chronic disease, lengthening State of Resistance , and treating State of Exhaustion .

Future Research
• A complete chemical screen of Aralia nudicaulis. The drug has not been analysed for chemical constituents and this should done.

• Aralia nudicaulis and the GAS. The drug should be tested in the animal model to determine its specific effects on the GAS.

• Aralia nudicaulis as compared with Eleutherococcus senticosus. It would be helpful to know the relative adaptogenic strength of Aralia nudicaulis, as compared to its relations in Araliaceae. A comparative study, using the animal model and Eleutherococcus senticosus, would be revealing.

• Aralia nudicaulis and shingles. The drug was used when resistance failed and the signs of State of Exhaustion displayed themselves. This included shingles, a noted problem amongst those battling chronic diseases. The drug and its ability to raise resistance to shingles should be studied.

The drug is an aggressive grower and is suitable for cultivation.

• Erichson-Bronson, Charlotte . Medicinal and other uses of North American Plants. Dover Press. New York . 1979. P. 351.
• Horton, Howard. Howard’s Domestic Medicine. Hubbard Brothers, Philadelphia .
1879. P. 491.
• Foster, Stephen and Duke, James. Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston . 1990. P. 54.
• King, John. The American Eclectic Dispensatory. Moore , Wilstach, and keys. Cincinnati . 1854. P. 237.
• Dyer, D. The Eclectic Family Physician. A scientific system of medicine on vegetable principles designed for families. 1855.
• Scudder, John. The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Published by the author. 1883. P. 484.
• Felter, HW and Lloyd, JU. Kings’ Dispensatory. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati . 1898. P. 261.

Notes from the Eclectic Physicians and other historical texts

1624: sagard huron,
I inquired of them respecting the chief plants and roots which they use for curing their illnesses and among others they highly esteem the one called oscar, which does wonders in healing all kinds of wounds, ulcers, and sores.

1708: sarrazin-vaillant, quebec paris, boivin: the plant passed here for sarsaparilla because its root is somethink like it and has the same vertues almost as powerfully, I treated a person who two year ago was cured of dropsy by using a drink of the root of this plant.

Illinois-Miami: the root of sarsaparilla, for sores and cuts.

“Carver: sarsaparilla: the root of this plant, which is the most estimale part of it, is about the size of a goose quill, and runs in differnt directions, twined and crooked, to a great length in the ground, and from the principal part of it springs many samller fibers, all of which are tough and flexible, the bark of the root , which alone should be used in medicne, is of a bitterish flavor, but aromatic, it is deseredly esteemed for it medicinal virtues, being a gentl sudorifin and very powerful in attentuatin the blood when impedd by gross humors.

The roots are aromatic and nutritious. they have been found benedicialn in debilitated habits. It is said the Indians would subsist on them, for long time , in their war and hunting excursins. they make an ingreasnt in diet drinks.

1828: Raffinesque
Two other american species of A.racemose and A.hispida, have the same properties as this, and may be used for each other. It is often called sarsaparilla, the root being similar to that article, and having similar properties… the whole plant is balsamic, fragrant , and has a warm aromatic sweetish taste. most unfolded in the root and berries. All the spikenards or aralias are popular medical plants throughout the United States ;they made part of the Materia Medica of the native tribes, and are extensively used by country practitioners.. the roots and berries are most efficient. The roots, bruised, or chewed, or in poultice are useful for cutaneous affections, erysipelas, and ringworm. AN infusion or decoction of the same, are efficient substitutes for those of sarsaparilla, and more powerful, in all diseases of the blood, syphilitic complaints, chronic rheumatism, local pains, cardiology, belly ache, and Cancer. As a pectoral both roots and berries are used in syrups, cordials, decoction,…The fresh roots and leaves chewed and applied to wounds, heal them speedily, Dr.SP informed be that he was once cured by them alone of a desperate accidental wound by a broad ax.

1837: Shaker Herb catalogue
Compound Concentrated Syrup of Sarsaparilla

This medicine, taken in doses of an once, 4 or 5 times a day will fulfill every indication that the boasted panaceas and catholicons can perform; is free from the mercureal poisons such nostrums contain; and is much more safe and efficient as a medicine for cleansing and purifying the blood. (No price given).

“A well known plant found in woods. Most abundant in rich and rocky soils, Can. to Car. It has a leaf stalk, but no proper stem. June. July.”

Properties and Uses – Alterative, and gently stimulant. Used in decoction or syrup as a substitute for Smilax Sarsaparilla, in cutaneous rheumatic and syphillitic affections; also in pulmonary diseases. Externally, a strong decoction of it is useful as an application to zone (shingles) and as a stimulant wash to old ulcers.

The Aralia Racemosa, Pettymorrel, or Spikenard, has a herbaceous, widely-branched smooth stem, three or four feet in hight, dark-green or reddish, and arising from a thick aromatic root; the leaves are decompound; the leaf-stalks divide into three partitions, each of which bears three or five large, ovate, pointed, serrate, slightly downy leaflets. Umbels numerous, small, arranged in branching racemes from the axils of the leaves or branches. It flowers in July,and grows in rich woodlands. The root is large, spicy and aromatic, and possesses properties similar to that of the A. Nudicaulis; itis much used in pulmonary affections and enters into the compound syrup of spikenard.

1855; Dyer (Vegetable Principles) - ARAIIA NUDICAALIS – SARSAPARILLA
This is said to purify the blood, and for that purpose may be drank freely. What some call sarsaparilla, I call dwarf elder or pigeon berry, which is good for the dropsy.

1859: Gunn
It is alterative, and somehat stimulant, and used in th form of a dection and syrup, as a duvstiture for the foreng smilax sarsaparilla, and by many is considred dully as good. Indeed some physicians consider it better, usefdul in constitutional dieseases, such as scrofula, ssyphilis, skin diseases, and where an alteritive andpurifyiing medicine is needed. dose of the dection or syrup, half a wine glass three times a day.

Included in the list of Canadian medicinal plants.

1876: canadian pharmacy: new orleans mead: 8 ounces of sarsaparilla, licorice, cassia, and ginger. 2 ounces of cloves, 3 ounces of coriander seed, boil for fifteen minutes, in eight gallons of water, let it stand until cold. then strain thorugh flannel and add to it in the soda fountain, syrup 12 pints, honey 4 pints, tincutre of ginger, 4 ounces, and coltuion of citric acid 4 ounces.

1879: can. pharm. sarsapariila root, a blood purifier, brings 5 cents a pound when collected for sale.

1879: Howard Horton MD
Spikenard root is perenial , brown, yellowish, creeing, twisted, sometimes many feet long, the thickness of the finger; one stem and one leaf mostly rising together, an dless than two feet high: flower stem straight, leafless, with three small simple naked umbels at the ened;leaf with nine folioles or leaflest, ovate, oblong, rounded at the base, end acute , edges indented or notched, surface smooth, flowets from twelce to thirty in each umbell, small and yellowish, berries small, similar to elder berries in size. Found from new england to carolina and indiana ,more common in the north than in the south: grows in dep woods , and good soils. It has a balsamic, fragrant, and warm aromatic sweetish taste.

All spikenards are popular medical plants throughtout the united states . They are healing, pectoral, sudorific, stimulant, diaphoeritc, cordial, depurative, etc.
The roots bruised or cheed or in a pultice, are used for all kinds of wounds and ulcers by the indians. Fomentations and cataplans are useful for cutaneous affections , erisypelas, and ringworms. An infusion or decoction of the same are effeicient substitures for those of sarsaparilla, and are even more powerful in all diseases of the blood, syphilitic complaints, crhoinic rheumatism, local pains, bellyache, and cancer. As a pecrotal , noth roots and berries may be used in syups, cordials, decoction, and cancer.and have been found useful in coughs, catarrh, cachexia, langour pains in the breast, and cancer. The cordial of spikenard is recomended for the gout, and the juice or essential oil for the earache and deafness.

1883: Scudder: (alterative)
Therapeutic action: This species of aralia is described as alterative, diaphoretic, pectoral, depurative, and vulnerary; it is regarded by many as a valuable alterative agent.

A strong decoction of this agent may be employed in chronic diseases of a cachexic character, as scrofula, cancer, or when the carcinomatous diathesis exists;in syphilis either in the secondary or tertiary form;in chronic rheumatism, particularly of a mercurial character; in herpetic affections, embracing every species indicating a general taint of the system, and also in all the various cutaneous diseases in which a general deputative or alterant course of medication is deemed appropriate or even indispensable.

It is also used in the same forms in chronic pectoral affections, as coughs, colds, catarrhal affections, phthisis, pain in the thorax arising from irritation or chronic inflammation of the respiratory organs.

1888: delamare island of miquelon : the root esteemed in miquelon because it has depurative (to free impurities) properties.

History – This plant, sometimes known as American, Wild, or False sarsaparilla, is indigenous, growing in moist woodlands, in the Northern and Middle States , and as far south as Tennessee and South Carolina . The part employed is the root; when fresh it has an agreeable balsamic odor, and a pleasant, spicy, saccharine taste. It yields its virtues to water or alcohol. In commerce this plant is often substituted by spikenard.

Action, Medical Uses and Dosage – Small spikenard possesses alterative properties, and is used in decoction or syrup as a substitute for sarsaparilla in all cases where an alterative is required. It is likewise used in pulmonary diseases. Externally, a decoction of it has been foun dbeneficial as a wash in zona (shingles) and in indolent ulcers.

1915: speck: montagnais: roots steepin in case of weakness. the dark berries made into a kind of wine by the montagnais and used as a tonc. women cut up peices of the root, tie them on a sting, and keep them intheir tents until needed. the same is done my the penobscot, the berries are put into cold watter and allowd to ferment in making the wine refered to .

1915: speck: tataquidgeon:
Mohegon: a spring tonic is made by steeping together the following, wild cherry bark, sasagras root, sarsapariila root, false sarsaparilla root(smilacina racemosa), sweet flag, burdock, dandelion leaves, blossoms of the white daisy, boneset, and motherwort and black birch bark.

1917: Health from Field and Forest
A most highly-extolled blood purifier; used in chronic diseases of the skin, venereal complaints, dropsy, rheumatic affections, adn in all cases where a good alterative is required.

1925: Louisiana Creole use: Gumbo Ya-Ya:
Sarsaparilla tea was imbibed each spring to purify the blood.

1926 densmore chippewa:
for humor in the blood
fresh root applied to sores
nose bleed put up nose and chewed.
missing period tea made of sarsaparilla, red current stem, and spikenard.
used if the illness threatened to turn into consumption.

1928, reagan, chippewa:
fainting, fits, blood purifier, owner of recipe said this is eastern medicine, medicne of the wabena society of his people.

1928: meskwaki: a remedy for interior toubles, for lung and for fevers, a mixture of isc other harbs and the roots ofsaraspaiila. used to cure burns and sores, moined ith two other herbs geven to give strength to one who is weak.

1932: ojibwe: used to catch fish in nets at night.

1933: smith
Potawatomi: tis is a valued root among the forest potawatomi, and they pound it into a mass to be used as a pultice to reduce swelling and cure infections.

1940: chipewas: the roots used for their stimulating properties.

1945: tete de boule: all tribes use it for one remedy or the other. Leaders in Homoepathy

It is also a good remedy for syphilitic eruptions with great emaciation, cracks on the hands and feet, on sides of fingers and toes. used for general emacation, chronic rheumatism, debility.

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.