Source, Etc

Indian sarsaparilla or hemidesmus root is obtained from Hemidesmus indicus, Robert Brown (N.O. Asclepiadeoe), a climbing shrub indigenous to India and Ceylon.


Hemidesmus root usually occurs in long, slender, rigid pieces, often more than 30 cm. in length, but seldom exceeding 6 mm. in thickness, which branch occasionally and bear a few fibrous rootlets. Portions of the slender aerial stems with opposite leaf-scars are attached to the upper extremity. The root varies in colour from brick-red to dark brown or nearly black; it is rather tortuous, nearly cylindrical in shape, and marked with longitudinal wrinkles, and, at rather distant intervals, with conspicuous transverse cracks. The thin cork with which the root is covered shows a disposition to separate from the cortex, and on one side may often be observed to be distinctly raised above it. The transverse section exhibits a large, porous, but not distinctly radiate yellowish wood surrounded by a thin greyish or sometimes dark grey bark. The drug has an agreeable odour, distinctly recalling tonco beans; the taste is slightly aromatic and sweetish, but not otherwise characteristic.

Fig. 178.   Hemidesmus root. Reduced.

Fig. 178. - Hemidesmus root. Reduced.

The student should observe

(a) The rigid, tortuous character of the root,

(b) The transverse cracks,

(c) The easily separable cork,

(d) The large yellowish wood; and should compare the root with sarsaparilla, which is destitute of transverse cracks, has a firmly adherent cork, and a small wood.


The agreeable odour is due to a crystalline odorous substance resembling, but not identical with, coumarin. Of other constituents little is known.


It has been used as an alterative, but is now practically obsolete.