INDIAN SARSAPARILLA: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF INDIAN SARSAPARILLA
Indian sarsaparilla belongs to the Asclepiadaceae family of plants (milkweed family) which typically are flowering plants of the order Gentianales which boasts more than 280 genuses or genera, and more than 2000 species of tropical herbs and shrubby climbers. They are rarely trees or bushes. They can be recognized by their milky juice, their 5 united petals, and pod-like fruit and generally tufted seeds. The pitcher plant is probably one of the best known of these. It is therefore not related to the American Sarsaparilla which is of the Smilax order and one of the Liliaceae.
It is native to the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the Malaccan Islands, and is notably used to cure STDS including syphilis. For this it seems to be more efficacious than the American sarsaparilla. It is also used for a number of other purposes, including as an antidote to snake venom, a use which has been borne out by medical research. An infusion can be made by using 2 ounces of chopped root and pouring 1 pint of boiling water over it and allowing this to steep for 1 hour. Then it should be strained and drunk over a 24 hour period. It is good for skin diseases, and makes a good diuretic, and is used for rheumatism, scrofula and thrush. It is also useful for stomach problems including indigestion and loss of appetite. For these problems it can be used powdered with milk, the dosage being between 1 and 6 grams. It can be ground to a paste with a little water and mixed with black pepper for diarrhoea and stomach ache, and a decoction of the root is used on the subcontinent to promote hair growth. A syrup made from the root is used as a diuretic, and a paste made from the root is given for rheumatism, swellings and boils. The flowers can be made into a decoction by boiling them in water and used to promote sweating in fevers. It is used for kidney complaints too and given to children for sore mouths.
A refreshing cooling drink is made from the powdered roots, flavoured with the addition of rose petals, or lotus petals, milk and honey. This cools the body down in the heat of summer. Modern medical research suggests that it has antifungal and antibacterial problems, which bears out the traditional use for ringworm and thrush. The ethanolic extract of the root has shown that it can inhibit the growth of cancer cells and it has strong antioxidant properties. It has also been shown to have liver protective actions.
Once again modern medical research is catching up with ancient healing practices.