Sarsaparilla root has been used for centuries by the indigenous peoples of Central and South America for sexual impotence, rheumatism, skin ailments, and as a general tonic for physical weakness. It has long been used by tribes in Peru and Honduras for headaches and joint pain, and against the common cold. Many shamans and medicine men in the Amazon use sarsaparilla root internally and externally for leprosy and other skin problems (such as psoriasis and dermatitis.) Leprosy can be common in areas where the disease is carried by armadillos (and in the Amazon, armadillos are “on the menu” in indigenous diets). Sarsaparilla root also was used as a general tonic by indigenous tribes in South America, where New World traders found it and introduced it into European medicine in the 1400s.
European physicians considered sarsaparilla root a tonic, blood purifier, diuretic, and sweat promoter. A Smilax root from Mexico was introduced into European medicine in 1536, where it developed a strong following as a cure for syphilis and rheumatism. Since this time, Smilax roots have had a long history of use for syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases throughout the world. With its reputation as a blood purifier, it was registered as an official herb in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as a syphilis treatment from 1820 to 1910. From the 1500s to the present, sarsaparilla has been used as a blood purifier and general tonic and also has been used worldwide for gout, syphilis, gonorrhea, rheumatism, wounds, arthritis, fever, cough, scrofula, hypertension, digestive disorders, psoriasis & skin diseases.