Smilax aristolochiifolia (root)

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Smilax aristolochiifolia Mill.   Smilacaceae  
Syn. Smilax medica Schltdl. & Cham.; Smilax ornata Lem.  
Standardized common name (English): sarsaparilla

Botanical Voucher Specimen

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Smilax aristolochiifolia Tropicos 26042.jpg
Source: MOBOT,[1]

Smilax aristolochiifolia Tropicos 27626.jpg
Source: MOBOT,[2]

Organoleptic Characteristics

Macroscopic Characteristics

S. medica has an angular stem, armed with straight prickles at the joints, and a few hooked ones in the intervals. The leaves are smooth, bright green on both sides, shortly acuminate, five-nerved, with the veins prominent beneath. They vary much in form, the lower being cordate auriculate-hastate, the upper cordate-ovate. In the old leaves the petiole and midrib are armed with straight subulate prickles. The inflorescence is an umbel of from eight to twelve flowers, with a smooth axillary peduncle and pedicels about three lines long.

The Mexican or Vera Cruz sarsaparilla is derived from this species. ... [The roots] consist of a head or caudex with numerous long radicles, which, however, are somewhat smaller than in that variety, and have a thinner bark. They are often also much coiled with earth. It contains but little starch and has quadrangular endodermal cells, with thickened walls, and more or less oval lumen.

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [3]

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PlantaPhile - 1409.jpg
Source: PlantaPhile[4]

PlantaPhile - 3053.jpg
Source: PlantaPhile[5]

Microscopic Characteristics

Under the microscope, transverse sections of all of the commercial varieties of Sarsaparilla show an epidermal layer with basal portions of root hairs; a hypodermis composed of several layers of strongly lignified cells, the walls being uniformly thickened, except in Mexican Sarsaparilla in which the inner walls are only slightly thickened; a cortex composed of numerous parenchyma cells mostly containing starch, some containing resin or raphides of calcium oxalate; an endodermis of a single layer of strongly lignified cells, the walls being' uniformly thickened except in Mexican Sarsaparilla in which the outer walls are only slightly thickened; a central cylinder composed of radial bundles connected with sclerenchymatous fibers, the tracheas being large and oval and the phloem in small groups at the periphery of the bundle; and a pith composed of starch-bearing parenchyma cells.

Powdered Sarsaparilla is light grayish-brown to dark grayish-brown; when examined under the microscope it exhibits numerous starch grains, from 0.003 to 0.023 mm. in diameter, spherical, or biconvex or spherical-tetrahedral, single to 2- to 4-compound, and frequently with a central-elliptical cleft; calcium oxalate in raphides, from 0.006 to 0.035 mm. in diameter, occurring singly or in groups; cells of the hypodermis and endodermis with lemon-yellow or reddish-yellow porous walls and, in the case of Mexican Sarsaparilla, showing an uneven or irregular thickening, the individual cells from 0.08 to 0.5 mm. in length; fragments of trachea) with simple and bordered pores or scalariform or reticulate thickenings associated with sclerenchymatous fibers having rather thin, very slightly lignified and porous walls.

Source: United States Dispensatory (1918) [6]

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Smilax aristolochiifolia - Alkemist Laboratories.jpg
Prismatic crystals of calcium oxalate observed at 400x with Acidified Chloral Hydrate Glycerol Solution.
Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories[7]

Smilax aristolochiifolia-1 - Alkemist Laboratories.jpg
Dark orange resinous material from cork observed at 400x with Acidified Chloral Hydrate Glycerol Solution.
Source: Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories[8]

High Performance Thin Layer Chromatographic Identification

Supplementary Information


  1. MOBOT,
  2. MOBOT,
  3. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  4. PlantaPhile
  5. PlantaPhile
  6. United States Dispensatory (1918)
  7. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
  8. Elan M. Sudberg, Alkemist Laboratories
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