This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
MEDICINAL PART. The root.
Description. -- The stem of this plant is twining, angular, and prickly, the young shoots being unarmed. The leaves are ovate-oblong, acute, cordate, smooth, and about a foot long. The petioles are an inch long, bearing tendrils above the base. Botanically, nothing is known of the flowers. This plant grows in New Granada, on the banks of the Magdaline, near Bajorque. Great quantities are sent to Mompox and Carthagena, and from thence to Jamaica and Cadiz.
The Smilax Syphilitica, S. Papyracea, S. Medica, S. China, and S. Sarsaparilla are all members of the same family of plants; their medicinal qualities are similar, and they form the Sarsaparilla of commerce, with the exception of the S. Sarsaparilla, which is native to the United States, flowering from May to August. The American plant is regarded by some as inert, but why so I do not know. The plant extensively known in the South as Bamboo Brier, which is but a species of Sarsaparilla, certainly possesses medicinal qualities equal, if not superior, to commercial Sarsaparilla. Professionally, I employ the Honduras Sarsaparilla, which I regard as the best.
History. -- The Sarsaparilla of commerace consists of very long roots, having a thick bark of a grayish or brownish color. They have scarcely any odor, but possess a mucilaginous taste. Those roots that have a deep orange tint are the best, and the stronger the acrid and nauseous qualities, the better are the properties of the root. Water and alcohol extract its medicinal qualities. By chemical analysis it contains salseparin, a coloring matter, starch, chloride of potassium, an essential oil, bassorin, albumen, pectic and acetic acid, and the several salts of lime, potassa, magnesia, and oxide of iron.
Properties and Uses. -- An alterative. When properly prepared it exerts a favorable change over the system. It has great repute in syphilitic diseases. In several chronic diseases, as of the skin, rheumatic affections, passive dropsy, etc., it is of service. Its chief use, however, is an adjuvant to other alteratives; its individual properties being too feeble to answer all the conditions required of an alterative.
Dose. -- Of the powder, thirty grains; of the infusion or syrup, four fluid ounces.