The drug sarsaparilla is furnished by the root of a climbing plant of the genus smilax, which prevails over the northern part of South America, the whole of Central America, and the west coast of Mexico. Many varieties contribute the drug of commerce. Its qualities were made known in early European annals from the commendation of explorers of the New World. Monardes (447) is authority for the statement that it was introduced to Seville about 1536 from "New Spain," but that a different variety soon followed from Honduras. The "Chronicle of Peru," by Pedro de Cieze de Leon (151), 1553, mentions sarsaparilla as growing in South America, where he observed it between 1533 and 1550. It was recommended as a cure for syphilis and acute rheumatism, the Spaniards calling it "an excellent medicine." In this connection it may be said that the name applied to it was zarza parilla, afterward becoming sarsaparilla. Like other remedies introduced in business channels for commercial purposes from the wonderful New World, sarsaparilla enjoyed a marvellous reputation, which evidently was not interfered with by the fact that it returned great profits to the dealers. A little work issued in its behalf by Girolamo Cardano (123), of Milan, 1559, advocates it most strongly in the direction of the diseases mentioned. It found its way into pharmaceutical stores, where it made an eventful record as a new remedy from the New World. In domestic medicine from the time of its introduction a decoction has been "authoritatively" considered serviceable as a "blood purifier." It is not necessary to state that in the form of a sweetened decoction syrup of sarsaparilla has through several decades enjoyed continual conspicuity in the pharmacopeia.
The History of the Vegetable Drugs of the U.S.P., 1911, was written by John Uri Lloyd.