Sarsaparilla is a soft drink, originally made from the Smilax regelii plant, but now sometimes made with artificial flavours. Smilax ornata is a perennial, trailing vine with prickly stems that is native to Mexico and Central America. Common names include sarsaparilla, Honduran sarsaparilla, and Jamaican sarsaparilla. It is known in Spanish as zarzaparrilla, which is derived from the words zarza meaning "bramble" (from Basque sartzia "bramble"), and parrilla, meaning "little grape vine".
Smilax ornata was considered by Native Americans to have medicinal properties, and was a popular European treatment for syphilis when it was introduced from the New World. From 1820 to 1910, it was registered in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for syphilis. Modern users claim it is effective for eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, herpes, and leprosy, along with a variety of other complaints. There is no peer-reviewed research available for these claims. There is, however, peer-reviewed research suggesting that S. regelii extracts have in vitro antioxidant properties, like many other herbs.
Smilax ornata is used as the basis for a soft drink, frequently called Sarsaparilla. It is also a primary ingredient in old fashioned-style root beer, in conjunction with sassafras, which was more widely available prior to studies of its potential health risks.
In southern states of India (particularly Tamil Nadu), sarsaparilla is called maahali or mahani, and is pickled and consumed as a 'mix' along with curd rice.
The roots of sarsaparilla (locally known as Nannari roots) is also the key ingredient in a popular summer drink in south India (especially Madurai and surrounding areas). The drink concentrate, commonly referred to as Nannari Sherbet, is made by slightly crushing the roots of sarsaparilla and steeping it in hot water to infuse the flavors. Jaggery syrup and/or sugar solution is added to this to make a concentrate. Nannari roots are termed to have medicinal properties and are typically sold in Ayurvedic stores in India.
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