They come from a perennial, trailing, climbing vine with prickly stems and deep roots which are tubers. The plant is a member of the greenbrier family.
Three varieties are used: Smilax officinalis, Smilax aristolochiaefolia and Smilax ornata.
The early shoots in the spring can be eaten like asparagus.
Sarsaparilla the drink is made from the roots. It is a brown, non-alcoholic drink that sometimes has a medicinal flavour.
In the UK, you can buy Sarsaparilla as a cordial from Mawson’s since 1998 (the product was retired by they revived it.)
Sarsaparilla was used as a spring time tonic.
Sarsaparilla was introduced into Europe in the 1500s.
The word “Sarsaparilla” comes from Spanish “zarza” (“shrub”) and “parilla” (“little vine”.)
Usually pronounced “Sass pah rilla.”