Sarsaparilla (Span. zarza, a bramble, and parrilla, a vine; i. e., a thorny vine), a drug consisting of the roots of various species of smilax. (See Smilax.) There is no article of materia medica surrounded by so much uncertainty as sarsaparilla. Little is definitely known as to the plants which produce the varieties of commerce, and there is no agreement among medical men as to its remedial value. Sarsaparilla is collected in western Mexico, Central America, and the northern countries of South America, and the varieties are known by the names of the countries producing them, or those of the ports of shipment. Among the species to which it has been referred are smilax officinalis of Colombia and Jamaica, S..medica of Mexico, S. papyracea, S. syphil-litica, and others. The base of the stem in the different plants is enlarged to form a short, thick, woody, and knotted rhizome, from which proceed several long slender roots which run near to the surface, often as much as 9 ft. in length. These roots are collected, in some countries with and in others without the rhizome, dried, and made into parcels; the dried roots average about the size of a quill, are furnished with more or less rootlets or "beard," and longitudinally furrowed; they have an earthy smell and flavor.

Examined with the microscope in cross section, the varieties present characteristic differences in the proportion and arrangement of the cortical, woody, and medullary tissues; in some kinds the cells abound in starch granules, on which account the commercial varieties are grouped as mealy and non-mealy sarsaparillas; the Honduras, Guatemala, and Brazilian belong to the first, and the Jamaica, Mexican, and Guayaquil to the other class. A crystalline neutral principle may be separated from the root, which has been called smilacine, salseparine, and pa-rilline; the last, being the oldest, is the generally accepted name; it appears to be related to saponine, and like that froths remarkably when a solution of it is shaken. Sarsaparilla was introduced into Spain as early as 1545, and has since been at times a very popular medicine. Those physicians who regard it as of value class it as an alterative, and use it in inveterate venereal cases, chronic rheumatism, obstinate skin diseases, and in a generally depraved condition of the system. It is given in the form of decoction and sirups; the sirups contain guaiacum and aromatics, and are much used as a vehicle for medicines of positive efficacy, such as iodide of potassium and corrosive sublimate.

The drug has a popular reputation as a "purifier of the blood," and a few years ago immense quantities of quack medicines were sold bearing the name, but containing not a particle of sarsaparilla. The sirup called sarsaparilla, so much drunk in soda water under the impression that it is healthful, rarely contains any of the drug. - Indian sarsaparilla is hemidesmus Indicus, of the milkweed family, the root of which is employed in India and sometimes in England for the same purposes. American or false sarsaparilla is aralia nudicaulis. (See Spikenard).