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Copyright © 1990 - 2016 by Robert Dale Rogers. All rights reserved.

No portion of this book, except for a brief review, may be reproduced, or copied and transmitted, without permission of author. This book is for educational purposes only. The suggestions, recipes and historical information are not meant to replace a medical advisor. The author assumes no liability for unwise or unsafe usage by readers of this book.


(Aralia nudicaulis L.)


(A. hispida Vent)


(A. racemosa L.)


(A. elata [Miq.] Seem)


PARTS USED- rhizome, berry, flower

Wild Sarsaparilla young leaves

The roots are also nutritious.

a kind of beer can be made with them.




Sarsaparilla is derived from Spanish SARZA, bramble and PARILLA, for vine.

Nudicaulis means naked stemmed, from Latin NUDUS, and the Greek

KAULOS, as most Aralia species have spines or thorns.

Aralia may derive from the latinized form of ARALIE, the Quebec habitant word for the plant, according to Fernald. Maybe.

Wild sarsaparilla is abundant among the poplar and birch forest of the aspen parkland and sub-boreal forests of the prairie. I call it Alberta Ginseng, as this plant and Devil’s Club are our two resident members of the famous herbal family.

The plant is unusual in that the flower and leaf stems separate just above the root. Mature plants may live up to forty years. Bristly sarsaparilla is found on dry soil in the boreal forests of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Spikenard is fully hardy to our area but its native turf is further south and east.

The Cree call the former WAPOSOCIYIPÎYK or Rabbit Root; while the Chipewyan call it GAJIE’ or Rabbit Berry. Compresses of the root, either chewed to a pulp or pounded were applied to cuts and wounds. It was decocted with labrador tea to help improve appetite.

The powdered root was given for venereal disease, probably due to immune enhancing elements, and desperation.

The fruiting stalk was boiled and given to new mothers to stimulate lactation.

Root decoctions were used for treating infected gums in children, and cases of childhood pneumonia.

The Chippewa used the root of WABOS’ODJI’BIK, Rabbit Root, for liver problems, upset stomach and heart pain. They infused the leaves as a remedy for fainting and fits. The Iroquois used the seeds as a beverage in an unspecified way, and the root for cancer and diabetes.

The Ojibwa used leaf infusions for fainting, fits, and blood problems; the Algonquin used root tea for kidney disease in children.


The Mi’kmaq boiled the root as a poultice for wounds; dried and powdered the root as an infusion for colds and flu. For coughs, they combined it with calamus root.

The fruit is edible, but contains small hooks that catch in the throat. It is better to cook them, or ferment into wine, which I have done. It is not great, but different.

The Blackfoot, and Bella Coola of west coast used the root for a tonic, or blood-cleansing tea. The Thompson in BC interior, call the root STELT AUX, roughly meaning, “ground growth resembling a person”. This is reminiscent of ginseng root and its resemblance to human figures with arms and legs.

They used the root for blood cleansing, pimples, as well as “lassitude and general debility”.

The Gitksan call it MAA’YTXWHL SMEX, or “berries gathered by a black bear”. The root helps heal wounds that are split open, combining the pounded root with pitch.

The neighboring Wet’suwet’en call it SCANISTLES. They combined the rhizomes with other root and barks to treat tuberculosis.

Sophie Thomas, Sai’Kuz healer uses the root she calls HADOOSE for stomach complaints.

In the East, the Algonquin ate the roots as vegetables, and made a fermentation of the berries into wine.

The Cherokee name is ÂTALÏ KÛLÏ meaning “it climbs the mountain”. Decoctions were taken internally for headaches, cramps, and female troubles. The chewed root was blown on spot for pains in the side.

Several Native tribes used root decoctions to prevent toxemia during pregnancy, and to ensure a less painful birthing process.

The young shoots made an acceptable potherb, usually better with one change of water.

Various native tribes boiled calamus and wild sarsaparilla root to soak their fishing nets, usually made from dogbane bark. This was considered good luck, and help increase the catch. Other tribes would add alder bark, to darken the net, so the fish could not see it. We all know how superstitious fishermen can be!

Wrote one early American herbalist: “The bark of the roots, which alone should be used in medicine, is of a bitterish flavour, but aromatic. It is deservedly esteemed for its medicinal virtues, being a gentle sudorific, and very powerful in attenuating the blood when impeded by gross humours.”

Dr. King, one of the great Eclectic physicians, wrote wild sarsaparilla “possesses alterative properties and is used in decoction or syrup as a substitute for sarsaparilla [Smilax] in all cases where an alterative is required. It is likewise used in pulmonary diseases. Externally, a decoction of it has been found beneficial as a wash in zona [shingles] and in indolent ulcers.”

Root Beer was regional in nature, but in our area equal parts of wild sarsaparilla, dandelion and burdock root, as well as red clovernblossoms were used to make a powerful tonic drink. The recipe below, also known as New Orleans Mead, is adapted from the Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal of 1876.

A large industry in the late 19th century evolved around the collection of wild sarsaparilla root.

Dr. Cook combined the root with burdock, bittersweet and moonseed (Menispermum) for syrups to treat mild secondary syphilis and skin conditions connected with irritability.

Today, various Native healers use it as a preventative for diabetes and cancer. Various Cree healers call it natural Viagra, for its ability to treat impotence.

In Turkey, the plant is called Yabani Saparna and used as an alterative, narcotic, pectoral and sudorific.

Bristly Sarsaparilla (A. hispida) root was traditionally prepared as tea by Algonquin for heart troubles.

The Métis call it SASPAREL or WÂPOSÔCÂPIHK, and use leaf tea to promote sweating and kidney irritations.

The Forest Potawatomi know it as BABÎKWE’WÛNÛSKÛN meaning “little flute stem”. It was used in a manner similar to wild sarsaparilla.

The plant is connected with Uranus/Aquarius and related to water element concerns.

Thoreau mentions counting 130 berries in one umbel.

Aralia produce seeds that averages about 90,000 per pound, dispersing in late August. Light sulphuric acid baths for 30-40 minutes before sowing in September will increase germination rate.

Spikenard (A. racemosa) is restricted on the prairies to southeastern Manitoba.

It was widely used by various tribes for its warming, oily properties, to treat coughs, colds, and tuberculosis. The Forest Potawatomi call it OKADAG, meaning leg.

Matthew Wood writes, “Spikenard is pungent, sweet, warm, stimulating and oily. The oily brown root has a furry tuft where the stem arises from the ground—the signature of a ‘bear medicine’.”

The related Japanese Angelica Tree (A. elata) is hardy to the prairies, and has a survival rate of 9 out of 10 when grown at the Morden Arboreatum. It has settled well in Washington and Oregon, as well as northeastern North America.

The young shoots are eaten in Japan as a garnish foodstuff called TARANOME.

This plant was formerly known as Aralia mandshurica, and was officially sanctioned as a tonic/adaptogen in the former USSR in 1958, four years before the term “adaptogen” was approved.

The effect of root is similar to Asian ginseng and Eleutherococcus. It enhances the central nervous system, modifies response to stress, and protects against pathogens, toxins, etc.





CONSTITUENTS- A. nudicaulis root- ampesterol, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol, alpha and beta-amyrin, the terpene aralein (C15H24), (3R) falcarinol, (3R,9R,10S) panaxydol, salseparin, potassium chloride, basserin, albumen, pectin, acetic acid, essential oils, and various minerals. 100 grams of fresh root contain 97 mg. Calcium, 30 mg. phosphorus, 225 mg. potassium, 34 mg. magnesium, 0.1 mg copper, 0.4 mg. zinc, 1.5 mg. iron oxide, 6 mg. manganese, and 2.4 mg chloride. Protein leaf studies conducted at Purdue in 1993 indicate that A. nudicaulis, is a morphologically distinct species, but is closely related to A. racemosa. A test for unknown alkaloids was positive.

A. elata bark- saponins, beta aralin, aralosides A-C, alpha taralin, protocatechuic acid, oleanolic acid, choline, beta sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol, etalosides A and B, congmuyanosides, echinocystic acid.

Young shoots and leaves- elatosides, hederagenin-3-0-glucuronopyranoside. root cortex- elatosides E & F, aralosides A-C, 8 oleanolic acid glycosides, stipuleanosides R1 and R2, chikusetsusaponins IV and IVa, anthocyans, aralin, choline, alkaloids.

Rabbit root is brownish with white inner and spongy pith that is a pleasant, balsamic odor and sweet taste. It readily gives up its medicinal properties to either alcohol or water.

It is a relaxant with gentle stimulating properties. In the spring of 1996, there was a Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the Prairie Conference in Olds, Alberta. An old friend and herbal colleague, Terry Willard, was speaking about ginseng. He described Chinese Ginseng as a sports car; and American Ginseng as a Volvo. As I listened to this I thought ....”and Wild Sarsaparilla is a Ford Tempo”.

That is, it has many of the same properties, but in milder form.

Aralia is an alterative that is used in many springtime tonics and “blood cleansers”. It is anti-rheumatic, with gentle stimulating effect on the kidneys and skin. To some degree it soothes the lungs and has mild expectorating and stimulating action.

The root is good for dry or moist coughs, and soothes inflamed conditions by enhancing expectoration. It is excellent for allergic or asthmatic coughs.

Deborah Frances suggests it is relaxing and allows things in, instead of over-reacting and closing down. Interesting!

Hot infusions encourage sweating, and are useful in fevers, chills and the onset of flu or colds. For this it combines well with calamus root.

Knowledgeable midwives encourage sips of the root infusion to help relax a hard cervix before delivery. Mild vaginal irritations are soothed by douche of decocted root.

A footbath of decocted root, not too hot, will give relief within the hour to those suffering gout.

The mashed, chewed or pounded rhizome is applied to sores, swellings, carbuncles and boils, as well as infected wounds and chronic skin conditions.

Aralia nudicaulis was official in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1820 to 1882, and classed as a stimulant, alterative, and diaphoretic.

In 1879, the roots sold for five cents a pound. Today, it is one hundred times the price.

William Buchan, a medical doctor, published his first edition of Domestic Medicine in 1769. This was one of the most influential and popular medical books of all time. In it he mentions that a pint decoction of woods of sarsaparilla (A. nudicaulis) may be drunk daily as a cancer cure.

The berries are a deep purple black colour and in the fall can be made into syrups, cordials, and wines similar in flavour to elderberry; even adding flavour to beer. They have good energy and ranked ahead of pin cherry, saskatoon berry, and blueberry for energy value in 1994 study conducted at Guelph.

A. nudicaulis as alcohol extract shows activity against gram-positive bacteria, specifically Staphylococcus aureus. Bishop & MacDonald, Can J Botany 1951.

Alpha amyrin is cytotoxic and anti-tumour in activity.

Work by Wang, Ivanochko et al, Anticancer Res 26:3 2006 examined 24 extracts from the rhizome, stem, leaf and fruit of wild sarsaparilla. A hexane extract of the rhizome showed activity against human colon cancer cell and human leukemia cell lines. A hexane fraction from the fruit showed activity against human cervix cancer cell lines.

Both alpha and beta amyrin have shown hepatoprotective activity in animal research. Alpha amyrin is a competitive inhibitor of porcine pancreatic elastase, suggesting anti-inflammatory properties.

It targets chymotrypsin, trypsin, cyclic AMP binding phosphatase, calium2+-dependent protein kinase C, collagenase, and HIV-1 protease receptor all indicative of anti-arthritic benefit.

Beta amyrin palmitate, found in the root, is an anti-depressant through release of epinephrine.

More careful analysis of the root is needed. The fresh root may be more useful than the dried, based on some spleen lymphocyte work I initiated.

Both alpha and beta amyrin possess anti-inflammatory activity potentiated by indomethacin, suggesting prostaglandin and TNF alpha inhibition. Araga et al, J Herbal Pharmaco 2007 7:2.

Work by Holanda et al, Phytomed 2008 15:8 found alpha beta amyrin is a pain reliever that works through an opioid mechanism.

The root and two of its compounds, (3R) falcarinol, and (3R, 9R,10S) panaxydol have been found to exhibit strong activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The compounds show an MIC of 25.6 µgM and 36 µgM respectively, and IC50 of 15.3 µgM and 23.5 µgM respectively. Hao Xin Li et al, J Ethnopharm 2012 January 3.

Mary Barnes, noted herbalist wrote, “Aralia nudicaulis has softer energetics than Oplopanax horridus while still having adaptogenic and lung supportive properties”.

Michael Moore suggests cold infusions of the root for adrenal cortex hypo-function, and for treating hyperlipidemia, associated with liver stress.

Dwarf Elder, or Bristly Sarsaparilla is used in suppression of urine, with anasarca from either renal or hepatic origin.

Warm infusions of the leaves are sudorific, increasing secretions and circulation. The bark is diuretic and alterative and has special action on the kidneys.

According to Dr. King, it is “very valuable in dropsy, gravel, and suppression of urine and other urinary disorders. The juice and decoction of the fresh roots are said to be emetic and hydragogue, and have been found efficient in dropsy.”

Dr. Cook agrees, adding that the bark of the root is strongest, but that the stem may also be used.

Warm decoctions have influence upon the uterus and skin circulation. Taken cool, it may be one of our best diuretics, but without irritating and exhausting the kidneys.

Dr. Cook suggests “for any sub-acute or chronic torpor of the renal organs, with aching back and scanty urine, it is an agent of peculiar value. In high-coloured urine, and in chronic aching and weakness of the bladder, it is equally beneficial.”

He recommends it in mild leucorrhea, amenorrhea and general female weakness.

Warm leaf infusions are sudorific, but can be upsetting to the stomach.

Aralia hispida has been analyzed for biological activity in both the aerial and underground parts. Studies conducted by Bergeron showed alcohol extracts of the leaves and roots effective against E. coli; whereas Candida albicans only responded to a dichloromethane extract, showing inhibition of gram-positive bacteria.

Spikenard is useful for adaptogenic properties associated with blood sugar fluctuations. David Milgrom says spikenard “cleans out clogged ducts”, suggesting a use for mastitis or congested breast ducts. It is great for allergies associated with respiratory system as well as more deep-seated problems.

J. I. Lighthall and W. O. Davis wrote in 1882. “Spikenard is a tonic to a weak, debilitated condition of the nervous system, where the patient is easily startled and has night sweats and a nervous cough.”

Usage to warm and stimulate the uterus and promote healthy menstruation is noted by herbalist Kate Gilday, and recorded in The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood.

Michael Moore contributes. “Like other close relatives of ginseng, spikenard has shown an ability to stimulate phagocystosis in white blood cells, increase interferon synthesis in infected cells, and increase the capacity for metabolic stress in rats. I haven’t done too much counseling with rats, but I can vouch for its helping human beings.

More prosaic but more predictable, spikenard is a first-class medicine for the initial stages of bronchitis, pneumonia, bronchorrhoea…all that stuff we usually call a “chest cold. Conversely, the same amounts will help the individual with moist, tired, chronic coughing; the aged person with impaired pulmonary function; or the heavy smoker or former smoker with a moist, phlegmy cough in the morning and evenings. A hot tea of the root will usually help start menstruation when the month has been a hard one, with a head cold or sudden change of weather possibly delaying the onset.”  

Spikenard (A. racemosa) fruit

Japanese Angelica Tree bark is used in both Traditional Chinese and Japanese Kampo medicine. The plant is known in former as CHUNG KEN or TSUNG MU; and in latter as TARANOKI. The dried bark has a pungent flavour and neutral properties useful in supplementing Chi, tonifying kidneys, tranquilizing spirit, and promoting blood circulation. The bark has stomachic, astringent and diuretic effects, useful in kidney disease and gastric ulcers.

It is used, often in combination, for diabetes, rheumatic pain, internal and external traumas, edema associated with nephritis, as well as acute and chronic hepatitis.

In pharmacology tests, the bark decoction lowers high blood sugar levels induced by alloxan. Aralin, one compound of the bark, induces apoptosis in cancer cells.

In Russia, the root has been used as a liver tonic and to treat stomatitis, diabetes, kidney problems, colds and flu, and ulcers. In Korea, it is used to treat diabetes mellitus.

Zhang et al, Fitoterapia found activity against A549 and HL60 cancer cell lines.

Elatoside E, and oleanolic acid from the root cortex; and elatosides G, H & I from young shoots and buds all exhibit potent hypoglycemic activity in glucose tolerance tests.

Aldose reductase inhibition, related to eye health, is attributed to the plant. Chung YS et al, J Ethnopharm 101:49-54. Elatoside A and B inhibit ethanol absorption, and may be useful in alcoholism. The young shoot is known as Taranome in Japan, and used as a food garnish. The leaves contain cytotoxic saponins active against HL60, A549 and DU 145 cancer cell lines. Zhang Y et al, Food Chem 2013 138:1 208-13.

See work by Yoshikawa and Yamahara, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 404, Waller & Yamasaki ed. Plenum Press, NY 1995.

Donald Yance, in his masterful Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism, cites a number of studies of interest. Pages 357-361.




Bristly Sarsaparilla (A. hispida) is a valuable diuretic; useful whenever there is excessive water retention (dropsy) in the internal cavity. This may be due to liver or kidney disease, with resultant constipation. It also resolves urinary disorders, especially with dropsy.

DOSE- Dr. Scudder advises doses of 5-30 drops of mother tincture in a sweetened cream of tartar.

Spikenard is a remedy for asthmatic conditions aggravated by lying down and worse after 11 pm. The least current causes sneezing, but also aggravated by spring allergies. Menstruation is suppressed.

DOSE- Mother tincture to 2-3X and lower potencies. First proving by Jones in 1870.




Several books have indicated that an essential oil is made from the root of both A. nudicaulis and A. racemosa. I have been, however, unable

to obtain either a sample, or written chemical constituents of the oil. If anyone could pass this one, I would be glad to include it in future editions.


Wild Sarsaparilla (A. nudicaulis) flower essence is specifically for men reaching middle age crisis. It is useful for those seeking resolution with maturation of sexuality and even, diminished sex drive.

Negative aspects include unhealthy relationships and “conquest” issues with younger females; or a need for artificial stimulation through peep shows, videos, or magazines.

On the positive side, the flower essence helps such individuals get in touch with the spiritual side of their sexuality, and learn to receive pleasure from their partners.          PRAIRIE DEVA


Autumn, leaves fall from hardwoods, rust and orange-red, near my cabin.

Stalks of wild sarsaparilla vanish from the medicine woods, touched by frost on the new moon.

Autumn, I feel the chill, I smell the breath, I see the cool Prussian blue water of Minamkeak Lake.

I search favourite places for wild sarsaparilla, fearing it has returned to dust in the earth.

Autumn, I hear it in wind through spruce trees, branches brush my jacket, needles touch my cheek.

I call for wild sarsaparilla, a soft prayer, deep within self.

Autumn, vivid colours on a hillside, leaves strewn on granite rocks, I see you wild sarsaparilla. Stalks, a gold ochre, dance in evening wind, one last greeting before winter.          LAURIE LACEY

Sarsaparilla’s keyword is instinct. It is a tonic for those coming into self-knowledge. Sarsaparilla is for those who need to learn to trust themselves and rely on their own instincts.          EVELYN MULDERS


The Cree name for Aralia nudicaulis translates as “rabbit root” according to Rogers. This indicates their conception of the therapeutic direction of the medicine. In the Far North, on the Canadian shield where the Cree live, the rabbit is associated with starvation and emaciation. When the snow is high, only the rabbits can get on top of the snow, so the deer population dies out and the people have to rely on the rabbit.

However, the latter does not provide a complete diet because it lacks good-quality oils. Thus, rabbit medicines are used to antidote the

ill-effects of emaciation and atrophy. They are largely nutritive and support the bones and muscles.          WOOD

Araliaceae won’t accept the natural decline wherein youthful vigour and well-being are replaced by aging debility. Aralia is noted for the ‘constant dread of disease’. They seek indestructible, enduring, eternal, ever-lasting life. Clinging to the dream of longevity, all their energy goes to rejuvenation, where it is possible to postpone or prevent the natural wane of functions…The dilemma for the Araliaceae is how to stay flexible and youthful while embracing all stages of life with open- minded enthusiasm and joy. The wisdom to do this is the true preserver of health and life.          VERMEULEN


SPRING TONIC- Combine wild sarsaparilla root, calamus root, chokecherry bark, birch bark, dandelion leaves, and oxeye daisy flowers. Steep equal parts by weight or combine and tincture for future use.

DECOCTION- Take one tbsp of dried Aralia root to one pint of boiling water. Let steep, covered, over night. In the morning, gently warm. Cold infusions also useful.

DOSE- Four ounces up to four times daily.

TINCTURE- Fifteen to thirty drops in water up to four times daily. Dried root tincture is 1:3 at 50% alcohol, fresh at 1:2, and 60%.

A. hispida- same ratio of root at 50%- 5-25 drops three times daily.

Dr. Cook recommends a tincture combination with four parts bristly sarsaparilla root, two parts each of Liatris spicata and ash bark, and one part black cohosh; for the treatment of dropsy and liver ascites.

SARSAPARILLA ALE- Take eight ounces each of wild sarsaparilla root, licorice root, gingerroot, and cassia bark and two ounces of cloves, three ounce of coriander seeds. Boil for fifteen minutes in eight gallons of water, let stand until cold, strain onto twelve pints of corn syrup and four pints of honey, stir until dissolved, heating slowly if needed. Cool to 70° F, and pour into fermenter.

Add yeast, complete, prime bottles with small amount of sugar and bottle and cap. Ready in 1-2 weeks.          BUHNER



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