Sex. Syst. Dioecia, Hexandria.
(Sarsa Jamaicensis; Smilax officinalis, Kunth ? Radix, L.—Smilax officinalis. Jamaica sarsaparilla.
The root, D.)
History.—The root of sarsaparilla was brought into Europe from the West Indies, about the year 1530, with the character of being a medicine singularly efficacious in the cure of lues venerea. [Pearson. Observations on the Effects of various Articles of the Materia Medica in the Cure of Lues Venerea, 1800] Monardes [Clusii Exotic, lib. x. cap. xxii. p. 317.] says that, when the Spaniards first saw it, they called it çarça-parilla, on account of its resemblance to the çarça-parilla of Europe (Smilax aspera). The Spanish term zarzaparilla (from zarza, a bramble; and parilla, a vine) signifies a thorny vine.
Botany. Gen. Char.—Dioecious. Perianth 6-parted, nearly equal, spreading.
Male flowers: stamens 6; anthers erect. Female flowers: perianth permanent; ovary 3-celled, the cells 1-seeded; style very short; stigmas 3. Berry 1- to 3-seeded. Seeds roundish; albumen cartilaginous; embryo remote from the hilum. (R. Brown, Prodrom, p. 293.)
Species.—Considerable uncertainty prevails as to the botanical origin of the various sorts of sarsaparilla of commerce. From four species of Smilax, a great part, at least, of this drug is obtained.
1. S. officinalis, HBK.—Stem twining, shrubby, prickly, quadrangular, smooth; the young shoots are unarmed, and almost round. Leaves ovate-oblong, acute, cordate, netted, 5- to 7-nerved, coriaceous, smooth, a foot long, and 4-5 inches broad; the young ones are narrow, oblong, acuminate, and 3-nerved. Petioles smooth, an inch long, bearing 2 tendrils above the base. Flowers and fruit unknown.—Grows in New Granada, on the banks of the Magdalena, near Bajorquo. It is called zarzaparilla by the natives, who transmit large quantities of it to Carthagena and Mompox; whence it is shipped for Jamaica and Spain (Humboldt). [Nov. Gen. et Spec. i. p. 215.] According to Pohl, it is collected near the river Abaité, in the western part of the province of Minas Geraes (Martius).
This species probably yields the sarsaparilla exported from Colombia (Savanilla, Santa Marta, Caraccas and its port La Guayra, St. Margarita and its port Porta Arenas), and Guatemala (Costa Rica).
2. S. medica, Schlechtendal, in Linnaaa, vi. 47.—Stem angular, armed at the joints with straight prickles, with a few hooked ones in the intervals. Leaves shortly acuminate, smooth, 5- to 7-nerved; inferior ones cordate, auriculate-hastate; upper ones cordate-ovate. Peduncle axillary, smooth, about an inch long. Inflorescence an 8- to 12-flowered umbel. Fruit red, size of a small cherry; contains 1—3 reddish-brown seeds. Embryo cylindrical, lodged in horny albumen (T. P. L. Nees). [Nees, Pl. .Med. Suppl.]
Schiede [Linnaea, Bd. iv. S. 576, 1829.] says, that of the numerous species of Smilax which grow on the eastern slope of the Mexican Andes, this is the only species which is collected in the villages of Papantla, Tuspan, Nautla, Misantla, &c, and carried to Vera Cruz, from whence it is sent into European commerce under the name of zarzaparilla. We may, therefore, safely state that Mexican sarsaparilla (Vera Cruz and Tampico) is the produce of this species.
3. S. papyracea, Poiret; S. syphilitica, Mart, (non Humb.) Reise, iii. 1280; Sipó ém of the natives.—Stem 4-cornered or plane-angular, polished, prickly. Leaves somewhat membranous, oval-oblong, obtuse at both ends, or usually pointletted at the apex, quite entire, unarmed, 5-ribbed, with 3 more prominent ribs. Cirrhi inserted beneath the middle of the petiole.—Province of Rio Negro, in marshy spots on the Japura, near Porto dos Miranhos (Martius); near Ega (Poeppig); and near Borba, in the province of Rio Negro (Riedel).—Yields Brazilian (also called Maranham, Para, or Lisbon) sarsaparilla.
The "Rio Negro Sarsa" of Dr. Hancock [Trans. Med.-Bot. Soc. 1829.] is perhaps the produce of this species.
The preceding are the species of Smilax, from which probably the greater part, if not all, of the sarsaparilla of commerce is obtained. Other species, however, which have been mentioned in connection with this drug, require to be noticed.
4. S. sarsaparilla, Linn.—It is common in the hedges and swamps of the United States of America; but, notwithstanding its name, it does not yield any of the sarsaparilla of commerce: and there is no evidence that it ever did yield any. Dr. Wood [United States Dispensatory.] remarks that its root would certainly have been dug up and brought into the market, had it been found to possess the same properties with the imported medicine.
5. S. syphilitica, HBK.—Humboldt and Bonpland discovered it in New Granada, on the river Cassiquiare, between Mandavala and San Francisco Solano. [Nova Gen. et Sp. Plant. t. i. 271.] In the former edition of this work, I stated, on the authority of Martius [Reise in Brasilien, Bd. iii.] , that this species yielded Brazilian sarsaparilla. But this botanist has subsequently [Systema Materiae Medicae Veg. Brasil. 1843-] ascertained that he had mistaken S. papyracea for this species.
Poeppig [Reise in Chile, Peru und auf dem Amazonstrome wahrend der Jahre 1827-32, Bd. i. S. 459. Pharm. Central-Blatt für 1832, S. 57, and für 1835, S. 908.] states that S. syphilitica, HBK, is collected at Maynas (in Colombia), and forms the sarsa fina which is mixed with sarsa gruésa (S. cordato-ovata, Pers), and sent to Para.
6. S. cordato-ovato, Persoon.—Cayenne; Maynas. Yields sarsa gruésa (see supra).
7. S. Purhampy, Ruiz, Memoria sobre las virtudes, &c. &c, Purhampy, p. 65.—Peru. Yields one of the best sorts of sarsaparilla, which Ruiz calls China peruviana. Lindley [Flora Medica.] thinks this may he the same species as S. officinalis.
8. S. obliquata, Poiret.—Peru. Guibourt [Hist. Nat. des Drog. t. ii. p. 182, 4ème édit. 1849.] ascribes to this species the Peruvian sarsaparilla of commerce, but I know not on what authority.
General Description.—The sarsaparilla or sarza (more properly zárza) of commerce (radix sarsaparilla vel sarzae) consists essentially of the roots of the before-mentioned, and perhaps also of other species of Smilax. In some sorts of sarsaparilla the roots are attached to a portion of the rhizome.
α. The rhizome or rootstock (rhizoma), called by druggists the chump, is a tuberous subterranean stem, which in the living plant is placed horizontally or obliquely in the earth. It grows throwing out aerial stems and roots at the more pointed extremity, and gradually dies off at the thicker and older end. One or more aerial stems are frequently found attached to the rhizome of the shops: these are rounded or square, with nodes and usually with aculei or prickles. If a transverse section be made of either the rhizome or aerial stem, no distinction of bark, wood, and pith is perceptible.
β. The roots (radices) are called by Schleiden [Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte in der Pharmacie im Jahre, 1847, p. 81.] adventitious (r. adventitiae): they are usually several feet long, and of variable thickness; on the average about that of a writing quill. The thin shrivelled roots are more or less wrinkled or furrowed longitudinally, and in trade are usually said to be lean; while the thick, plump, swollen ones are described as being gouty. The latter usually abound in starch, and are said to be mealy. Frequently, especially in some sorts of sarsaparilla, the roots are said to be bearded; that is, they give off, more or less abundantly, fibres, which are themselves often divided into fibrils.
The colour of the roots varies, being more or less red or brown, frequently with a grayish tint. The washed or unwashed condition, the greater or less care taken of them in drying, the time of year when they were collected, the colour and nature of the soil in which they grew, as well as the species or sort of plant from which they are obtained, and many other circumstances, doubtless modify the colour. The taste of the root is mucilaginous, and slightly acrid. The acridity is only perceived after chewing the root for a few minutes. The odour is somewhat earthy.
By a transverse section the roots are seen to consist of a cortex or rind, and a ligneous cord or meditullium inclosing the pith, somewhat in the manner of an exogenous stem.
The cortex or rind consists 1st, of the cuticle or epidermis, composed of compact cells; 2dly, of the outer cortical layers, composed of coloured (from golden yellow to deep orange-red), elongated, thick, flattened cells (some of which are porous), which form a subcuticular tissue (epiphlaeum or periderm ?); and, 3dly, of the inner cortical layers, consisting of shorter, thinner, cylindrical, often porous cells with large intercellular spaces. In some sorts of sarsaparilla most of these cells abound in starch, while a few contain bundles of acicular crystals (oxalate of lime ?) called raphides. The mealy cortex is frequently colourless, but sometimes has a roseate tint.
The ligneous cord or meditullium consists of 1st, a cellular layer (liber ?), called by Schleiden the Kernscheide or nucleus-sheath, whose cells are empty, thick, and strongly coloured (like those of the outer cortical layers); 2dly, a woody zone, called by Schleiden the Gefässbündelkreis or vascular-bundle-circle, usually of a pale yellowish colour, and composed of woody tissue, vessels, [The apertures in the woody zone, seen with the naked eye in a transverse section of the root, are those of large vessels. Occasionally we perceive an isolated bundle of vessels whose interior is filled up with a yellowish-red colouring matter.] and cambial cells; and, 3dly, medulla or pith, generally colourless, composed of cylindrical cells (like those of the inner cortical layers) which often abound in starch. Sometimes an isolated vessel, or a small group of vessels surrounded by a thin layer of ligneous cells, is seen in the pith.
The chief anatomical characters, which vary in the different species of sarsaparilla, are the relative breadths of the cortical, ligneous, and medullary layers, the characters of the cells of the nucleus sheath, and the number of layers composing the subcuticular tissue. Schleiden pretends that he can, by these characters, distinguish the South American, Central American, and Mexican sarsaparillas from each other. The following is the way in which he applies them: South American sarsaparillas, he says, have, almost without an exception, a mealy cortex and a vascular-bundle-circle whose breadth, from the nucleus sheath to the pith, is one-fourth, or at most one-third, the diameter of the pith. They have, therefore, a large white pith. The Central American and Mexican sarsaparillas have, on the other hand, a vascular-bundle-circle whose breadth is commonly equal to, and sometimes exceeds, the diameter of the pith. Sometimes, but rarely, the pith is half as thick again as the vascular-bundle-circle. The Central American and Mexican sarsaparillas are, according to Schleiden, readily distinguished from each other by the nucleus sheath, whose cells, in the Central American sorts, are either quadrangular or somewhat elongated transversely (tangentially), and are nearly equally thick on all sides (Fig. 268); whereas in the Mexican sort these cells are elongated in the direction from within outwards (radially), and have walls which are thicker on the inner than on the outer side (Fig. 269).
The Central American and Mexican sorts are less strikingly distinguished, according to Schleiden, by the external cortex (subcuticular tissue), which, in the Central American, consists of only one, rarely two, layers of very thick cells, and altogether has fewer cellular layers; while the Mexican has from 2 to 4 layers of very thick cells, and altogether sometimes 6 or 7 layers.
Commercial Sorts.—Several sorts of sarsaparilla are met with in commerce, and are well known to our dealers; but I find that, with some exceptions, there is a great want of precision in the names applied to some of the varieties. The terms Jamaica, Lima, Honduras, and Lisbon or Brazilian, are, by English dealers, applied to sorts which are well known to them either by the characters of the roots or the mode of packing. There is another kind, called by English druggists gouty or Vera Cruz sarsaparilla, which appears to me to be identical with that called by Continental and American writers Caraccas sarsaparilla, under which name I shall describe it.
α. Geographical Classification.—Sarsaparilla is exclusively the produce of America, and grows in the southern part of North America and the northern part of South America. The exact limits are not known.
1. Mexican sarsaparilla.—This is the produce of Smilax medica, and is the growth of Papantla, Tuspan, Nautla, Misantla, &c. It is usually shipped at Vera Cruz, and is, therefore, usually known in commerce by the name of Vera Cruz sarsaparilla. From Tampico, another Mexican port, a similar sort of sarsaparilla is also exported, which is known in Europe as Tampico sarsaparilla. According to Monardes, the first sarsaparilla which came to Europe was brought from New Spain (Mexico). He describes it as being whiter, somewhat yellowish, and smaller than the Honduras sort.
2. Central American sarsaparilla.—Guatemala produces sarsaparilla, which is sometimes exported to Jamaica; but it is not distinguished in European commerce as the produce of Guatemala. Honduras sarsaparilla is a well-known and distinct sort in the London market. Monardes says it was the second kind known in Europe. He describes it as darker and thicker than the Mexican sort; and says that it was more esteemed. Costa Rica sarsaparilla is usually sold as Lima sarsaparilla, with which it agrees in quality. Much sarsaparilla is collected on the Mosquito coast by the Seco Indians, who sell it to the Sambos. The latter carry it in their doreys to Truxillo, where they barter it for goods. [Young, Narratives of a Residence on the Mosquito Shore during the Years 1839, 1840, and 1841, Lond. 1842.] I have been informed that sarsaparilla, the produce of the Mosquito Shore of St. Juan de Nicaragua, is sometimes sent to England by way of Jamaica.
3. Colombian sarsaparilla.—Since 1831, Colombia has been divided into three independent states, viz., New Granada, Venezuela, and Ecuador, from all of which sarsaparilla is exported to Europe, either directly or indirectly, by way of Jamaica or New York.
α. New Granada.—According to Humboldt and Bonpland, sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis) is collected on the banks of the Magdalena, and transmitted to Carthagena and Mompox, whence it is shipped for Jamaica and Spain. Occasionally sarsaparilla is imported into England from Santa Marta and Savanilla.
β. Venezuela.—From La Guayra (the sea port of the Caraccas) is shipped to the United States of America and Europe Caraccas sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla is sometimes imported into England from Porta Arenas.
γ. Ecuador.—Occasionally sarsaparilla is imported into London from Guayaquil; but whether it is the produce of Maynas or of Central America I know not.
4. Brazilian sarsaparilla.—This is a well-known sort, and is imported from Para; and according to Martius is the produce of Smilax papyracea. Poeppig, however, says that two sorts of sarsaparilla, sarsa fina and sarsa gruésa, are collected in Maynas and transmitted to Peru: the first is the produce of Smilax syphilitica, the second of S. cordato-ovata.
5. Peruvian sarsaparilla.—Sarsaparilla is sometimes imported from Lima; but whether it is the produce of Peru or of Maynas, or of Central America, I know not. Under the name of Lima sarsaparilla is sold, not only the sarsaparilla from Lima, but also that from Costa Rica. It is probable that no sarsaparilla grows on the western declivity of the Andes, and that the sarsaparilla exported from Lima is either the produce of Maynas or has been carried to Lima from some other ports on the Pacific.
A considerable quantity of sarsaparilla is imported into London from Jamaica (Jamaica sarsaparilla), from Valparaiso, and from New York; and formerly also from Lisbon (Brazilian sarsaparilla). But it is not the produce of these places.
β. Qualitative Classification.—The various commercial sorts of sarsaparilla differ from each other in the anatomical and other characters of the roots, in the manner in which they are folded and packed, and in the absence or presence and character of the attached rhizomes and stalks.
I have already given a sketch of Schleiden's anatomical arrangement of the commercial sorts of sarsaparilla roots. I shall not adopt it, because I do not consider it accurate or easily applied. His classification would associate Costa Rica sarsaparilla with that of Honduras, and the Lima with the Caraccas and Brazilian sorts.
I shall arrange the sarsaparillas of commerce in two divisions: the first including those commonly termed mealy; the second, those which are not mealy.
Div. 1. Mealy Sarsaparillas.
(Sarsaparillae farinosae seu amylaceae.)
These are characterized by the mealy character of the inner cortical layers, which are white or pale-colored. The meal or starch is sometimes so abundant, that a shower of it, in the form of white dust, falls when we fracture the roots. The thickest mealy coat which I have measured was barely 1/10th of an inch in thickness. Compared with the diameter of the meditullium or ligneous cord, the thickness of the mealy coat is sometimes nearly equal to it, but usually does not exceed ⅓d or ½ of it. The thick mealy roots have a swollen appearance, and are technically called gouty by the dealers: the cortex, being brittle, is frequently cracked transversely in rings, and readily falls off. The colour of the mealy coat varies from white to yellowish or pinkish.
The medulla or pith is frequently very amylaceous. If a drop of oil of vitriol be applied to a transverse section of the root of mealy sarsaparilla, the mealy coat is but little altered in colour; while the woody zone becomes dark purplish or almost black. Sometimes the pith also acquires a darkish tint.
A decoction of mealy sarsaparilla, when cold, becomes dark blue on the addition of tincture of iodine.
The aqueous extract of mealy sarsaparilla, when rubbed down with distilled water in a mortar, does not completely dissolve, but yields a turbid liquid, which becomes blue on the addition of iodine.
This division includes three commercial sorts of sarsaparilla; namely, the Brazilian, the Honduras, and a third kind, which by English dealers is commonly called gouty or Vera Cruz sort, but which, by Continental and American writers, is usually denominated Caraccas.
They may be subdivided thus:—
- A. Pith 2- to 4-times the breadth of the woody layer; cells of the nucleus sheath elongated radially.
- α. Pale, folded, often swollen (or gouty) roots with the rhizomes or stems attached ... 1. Caraccas.
- β. Reddish-brown, unfolded roots with rhizomes or stems attached, packed in rolls or cylindrical bundles ... 2. Brazilian.
- B. Pith 1- to 1 ½ times the breadth of the woody layer; cells of the nucleus sheath square or elongated tangentially ... 3. Honduras.
1. Caraccas Sarsaparilla (Radix Sarsaparille de Caraccas).—This is the gouty or Vera Cruz sarsaparilla of most English dealers. It would appear to come to this country by various routes. One sample, which I have received, came, as I was informed by Mr. Price (of the firm of Price and Gifford, drug brokers), from the Pacific side of South America by way of Valparaiso. Mr. Luckombe, of the firm of Hodgkinson and Co., informs me that some of this sort of sarsaparilla has come by way of New Orleans. Dr. Wood [United States Dispensatory.] states that it is imported in large quantities into the United States from La Guayra (the port of the Caraccas). He says it comes in oblong packages of about one hundred pounds, surrounded with broad strips of hide, which are connected laterally with thongs of the same material, and leaves much of the root exposed. The roots, he adds, are separately, closely, and carefully packed, and are often very amylaceous internally.
I have a bundle (Fig. 271) of this sarsaparilla (called by English druggists gouty or Vera Cruz sarsaparilla) which was imported into Liverpool from Valparaiso. It weighs 5 ½ lbs. It is flattened, about 2 ½ feet long, scarcely 1 foot broad at its widest parts, and is 3 or 4 inches thick. At each extremity are two rhizomes, with portions of rounded or obscurely square stems bearing a few small prickles. The roots are pale yellowish or reddish-gray, and are very amylaceous. The cells of the nucleus sheath are elongated radially, and their walls are thicker on the inner side (Fig. 269).
This sort is probably the produce of Smilax officinalis and S. syphilitica, HBK.
Guibourt's Maracaibo sarsaparilla is perhaps only a variety of Caraccas sarsaparilla.
2. Brazilian Sarsaparilla; Lisbon, Portugal, or Rio Negro Sarsaparilla (Radix Sarsaparillae braziliensis, seu lisbonensis; S.de Maranon; S. de Para; S. insipida).—Prior to the introduction of the Jamaica sort of sarsaparilla into the London market, the Lisbon sort commanded the highest price. [Pope, Med.-Chir. Trans. vol. xii. p. 344, 1823.] This is usually imported from Para and Maranham. It is brought over unfolded, tied in rolls or cylindrical bundles (sarsaparilla longa) of from three to five feet long, and about a foot in diameter.
In the museum of the Pharmaceutical Society is a roll (Fig. 272) weighing 14 ¼ lbs.: its length is 3 feet 1 inch, and its diameter 7 inches.
It is free from the rhizome or chump. But, as it is not easy to get at the interior of the rolls, this sort of sarsaparilla is more liable to false packing than any other sort. It has fewer longitudinal wrinkles than the Jamaica kind, fewer radicles, especially at one end; has a reddish-brown colour, and abounds in amylaceous matter, both in the cortex and pith. Its decoction is much paler coloured than the Jamaica variety.
This sort of sarsaparilla is collected on the branches of the Amazon: according to Poeppig, at Huallaga, Intay, Jurua, Rio do los Enganos; according to Martius, at Ucayala, lea, Jupura, and Rio Negro.
Martius [Reise, Bd. iii. S. 1280.] says that the Indians gather it all the year round, according to the state of the weather and of the rivers. After being dried over a fire, the roots are tied up in bundles with a flexible stem called Timbotitica; and to prevent them being worm-eaten, they are preserved in the gables of the houses, where they are exposed to smoke.
The same writer [Systema Mat. Med. Brasil.] also states that this sarsaparilla is the produce of Smilax papyracea and S. officinalis. Poeppig tells us that there are two sorts of sarsaparilla which the dealers mix together; these are sarsa fina, a thin, lean sort, less active, but also less liable to be worm-eaten—and sarsa gruésa, a thicker, more active sort, but more liable to be attacked by insects: the first, he says, is the produce of S. syphilitica, the second of S. cordato-ovata. Schleiden suggests that S. Purhampuy of Ruiz may perhaps yield some Brazilian sarsaparilla.
3. Honduras Sarsaparilla; Mealy Sarsaparilla (Radix Sarsaparilla de Honduras; S. acris vel gutturalis).—It is imported from Belize, and other parts of the Bay of Honduras. It comes in large and smaller bundles, two or three feet long, folded lengthwise (in a kind of hank), and secured in a compact form by a few transverse circular turns. A large bundle (Fig. 273) in the museum of the Pharmaceutical Society is 2 ½ feet long, from 10 to 12 inches in diameter, and weighs about 17 lbs. A smaller bundle (Fig. 274) is 2 feet 2 inches long, 3 ½ inches in diameter, and weighs about 2 lbs.
The bundles are packed in bales, weighing from 80 to 110 lbs. or more, and imperfectly covered by skins. In the interior of the bundles are found roots of inferior quality, rhizomes with adherent stems, stones, chumps of wood, &c. The roots are furnished with a few rootlets. The general colour of the roots is dirty grayish or reddish brown. The cortex is very mealy, and the meditullium or central cord is thinner than in the Jamaica sort. The cells of the nucleus sheath are square, or are elongated tangentially, and are equally thick on all four sides (see Fig. 268).
The taste of the root is amylaceous, and ultimately somewhat acrid. Its decoction becomes intensely blue by the addition of a solution of iodine. Its powder is fawn-coloured, and, when rubbed with water and tincture of iodine, becomes intensely bluish black. From five pounds of the root of fine quality about one pound of extract may be produced (Hennell). A sample, examined by Mr. Battley, yielded six and a half ounces of extract from three pounds of root, which is about ten and a half ounces from five pounds: 874 grains of the cortical portions of the root yielded 230 grains of extract (Battley). In one operation, in the laboratory of a friend of mine, 170 lbs. of root yielded 45 lbs. of extract. According to Mr. Pope, the cortex yields twice as much extract as the meditullium.
Nothing whatever is known respecting the botanical origin of this sort of sarsaparilla.
Div. 2. Non-mealy Sarsaparilla.
(Sarsaparilla: non-farinosae vel non-amylaceae.)
The sarsaparillas of this division are characterized by a deeply coloured (red or brown) usually non-mealy cortex. The cortex is red and much thinner than in the mealy sorts. Although by the microscope starch grains can be detected in the inner cortical layers, yet their number is comparatively small, and is quite insufficient to give the mealiness which characterizes the sarsaparilla of the first division. The diameter of the meditullium or ligneous cord is much greater than in the mealy sarsaparillas, and is frequently six or more times greater than the thickness of the cortex. The roots have never that swollen appearance called by dealers gouty, and which is frequently observed in the mealy sorts.
Starch grains are usually recognizable in the pith by the microscope.
If a drop of oil of vitriol be applied to a transverse section of the root of the non-mealy sarsaparillas, both cortex and wood acquire a dark red or purplish tint.
A decoction of non-mealy sarsaparilla, when cold, does not yield a blue colour when a solution of iodine is added to it.
This division includes the sorts known in commerce by the names of Jamaica and Lima sarsaparillas, as well as a sort which I have received as a lean Vera Cruz sarsaparilla.
They differ from the Caraccas, Brazilian, and Honduras sarsaparillas, in having a red or brown usually non-mealy cortex. In the relative thickness of the pith and woody layer they agree with the Honduras sarsaparilla; but they differ from it in having the cells somewhat elongated radially, in this respect approaching the Caraccas and Brazilian sorts.
I have been unable to detect any anatomical difference between the roots of the Jamaica, the so-called Lima, and the lean Vera Cruz sorts. The Jamaica and Lima sorts are, I believe, not essentially different from each other. Both are probably the produce of Central America. They differ in colour somewhat, in the mode of packing, and in the route by which they reach England. What I have received as lean Vera-Cruz sarsaparilla, might pass for a lean, thin, pale-coloured Lima sort whose roots are unfolded.
4. Jamaica Sarsaparilla, offic; Red-bearded Sarsaparilla (Radix Sarsaparillae jamaicensis vel rubrae).—This sort first appeared in the London market about 1819 or 1820. [Pope, Med.-Chir. Trans. vol. xii. p. 344, 1823.] the roots are folded and made up in bundles (sarsaparilla rotunda) of about a foot or half a yard long, and four or five or more inches broad. These bundles are neither trimmed nor closely packed.
The bundle from which Fig. 276 was taken, was about 17 inches long, from 5 to 7 inches wide, and 3 inches thick; its weight was 21 ½ oz. In the museum of the Pharmaceutical Society are some plaits of Jamaica sarsaparilla. One of these (Fig. 277) weighs 5 ½ ounces, and is 4 ½ feet long, and 1 ¾ inches wide.
The bundles of Jamaica sarsaparilla are packed in circular bales of from 60 to 80 lbs. each. The roots of this sort are long, slender, furnished with numerous small fibrous rootlets (called the beard). Its cortex is brownish, but with an orange-red tint, which distinguishes it from other kinds of red sarsaparilla. The cortex is reddish, and when examined by the microscope is found to contain some starch globules. The meditullium has frequently a reddish tint. When chewed, Jamaica sarsaparilla tinges the saliva. Its taste is not remarkably mucilaginous, but slightly bitter, and after a few minutes slightly acrimonious. Its decoction is deepened in colour by a solution of iodine, but no blue is perceptible. Its powder is pale reddish-brown, and when rubbed with water and tincture of iodine becomes blue, but less intensely so than the powder of the Honduras variety. It yields a larger quantity of extract than the other varieties; its extract is perfectly soluble in cold water. From three pounds of average quality about one pound of extract may be obtained (Hennell, also Battley); but from the same quantity of root of very fine quality, nearly one pound and a quarter of extract may be procured (Hennell). 874 grains of the cortical portion of the root yielded 484 grains of extract (Battley). According to Mr. Pope, the cortex yields five times as much as the meditullium.
The following are the characters of Jamaica sarsaparilla according to the London Pharmacopoeia (1851):—
Reddish, copiously covered with rootlets, with a non-mealy bark.
Jamaica sarsaparilla is not the produce of the island whose name it bears, but, as I have been informed by wholesale dealers, of the Mosquito shore on the eastern coast of Honduras and of St. Juan, from whence it is brought to England by way of Jamaica; and occasionally it is said to be brought from Guatemala.
I am indebted to Mr. G. R. Porter, of the Board of Trade, for the following official account of the sources of Jamaica sarsaparilla:—
Account of the Quantities of Sarsaparilla Imported into Jamaica in each year from 1840 to 1845, distinguishing the Countries from which Imported.
The Quantities of Sarsaparilla Exported from Jamaica to Great Britain was—
In 1840: 157,868 lbs.; 1841: 19,214; 1842: 17,208; 1843: 27,271; 1844: 125,738; 1845: 175,278.
This accords with Humboldt's statement before mentioned (see ante, p. 265) that sarsaparilla is exported from Colombia (he says from Carthagena and Mompox) into Jamaica.
But, although this table may be relied on for showing the countries from which sarsaparilla is imported into Jamaica, it does not establish the place of growth. It is probable that Jamaica sarsaparilla is the produce of Smilax officinalis.
In the collection of Materia Medica at Apothecaries' Hall, London, is a sample of sarsaparilla said to have been grown in Jamaica; but it does not resemble the Jamaica sarsaparilla of commerce. Its colour is pale cinnamon brown. Internally it is mealy.
5. Lima Sarsaparilla (Radix Sarsaparillae de Lima).—This name is, of course, strictly applicable to sarsaparilla brought from Lima only, from whence, in fact, the first parcels came. But of late years sarsaparilla of the same quality has been brought from various other places; and the dealers, to distinguish it from other kinds, have called it the Lima sort; and gradually the term Lima sarsaparilla has been applied, rather to indicate the quality than the place of shipment. The true Lima sort is brought round Cape Horn; whereas much of the so-called Lima sort is the produce of Costa Rica, and is brought from the Caribbean Sea. I know of one importation of 99,000 lbs. from Costa Rica. The Lima sort is also brought from Guajaquil and Valparaiso.
Although some druggists prefer good parcels of Costa Rica to Lima sarsaparilla, still the general run of the Lima parcels comes nearer to Jamaica than the Costa Rica sort. On the whole, however, it is difficult to say whether any dealer can with certainty distinguish the Lima and Costa Rica sorts.
I am informed that the Costa Rica sort sometimes comes from St. Marta, Savanilla, and Caraccas; though that from Costa Rica is usually of a better description.
Lima (including Costa Rica) sarsaparilla is imported folded in bundles or hanks of about 2 or 3 feet long, and 6 or 9 inches in diameter, with the attached rhizome (chump) contained in the interior of the bundle. The bundle, of which a cut (Fig. 278) is subjoined, came via Jamaica: it weighed 2 lbs. 13 oz.; was 2 feet long, and 6 inches in diameter.
The bundles are usually packed in bales of from 60 to 80 lbs. each.
In quality, Lima sarsaparilla closely resembles the Jamaica sort; but it yields s smaller quantity of extract. Its colour is brown or grayish-brown. Occasionally a few roots are found in a bale of good Lima sarsaparilla, which, as well as their rhizome and stem, are light clay-coloured. The stems are square and prickly: the prickles are few and small, except in the clay-coloured variety.
Lima sarsaparilla is probably the produce of Smilax officinalis.
Occasionally a knobby root or rhizome, like the radix Chinae, with a round stem, and long, smooth, wiry, brown root-fibres, is found in a bale of Lima sarsaparilla. A transverse section of the stem presents, to the naked eye, a structure somewhat similar to that of the common cane. I have received the same root (under the name of Salsapareille-Squine de Macaraïbo) from Professor Guibourt, who found it in Caraccas sarsaparilla.
6. Vera Cruz Sarsaparilla (Radix Sarsaparillae de Vera Cntce).—Much confusion exists about the sarsaparilla called the Vera Cruz sort; this name being usually applied to the gouty Caraccas sort before described. The sort which I received some years ago under the name of "lean Vera Cruz sarsaparilla," I was informed came from Vera Cruz; but it is now seldom met with. It is the sort which Mr. Pope [Med.-Chir. Trans. vol. xii. p. 344, 1823.] described as "lean, dark, and fibrous." The bundle (Fig. 279) is 2 feet long, and, at the widest part, 7 inches broad: the weight is 7 ounces. The roots are unfolded (sarsaparilla longa), and have the chump attached at one end.
They are thin, tough, of a grayish-brown colour, with a shrivelled, thin, non-mealy cortex. They give off very few rootlets. This sort yields a deep-coloured decoction, which is unchanged by a solution of iodine.
Vera Cruz sarsaparilla is the produce of Smilax medica.
Tampico sarsaparilla is probably identical with the Vera Cruz sort.
Therapeutical Value and Quality.—The relative therapeutical values of the different sorts of sarsaparilla are not easily determined. There are only two ways by which we can attempt to arrive at them—one chemical, the other clinical or empirical. But while, on the one hand, we have neither comparative analyses of the various commercial sorts of this root, nor an accurate knowledge of its active principle; so, on the other, we have no clinical observations of the relative effects of the different sorts, and great difficulty exists in the way of making them, on account of the immediate and obvious effects of this root being very slight. To this absence of actual precise information must be ascribed the different relative values assigned to the various sorts in different countries.
In the southern parts of Europe, where sarsaparilla has been the longest in use, the thickest and most mealy roots, irrespective of the country producing them, are preferred. It is, however, quite certain that starch is not the active principle of the root, but is regarded as being contemporaneous with it. I believe this opinion to be erroneous; for, 1stly, the mealy sarsaparillas give, to the test of oil of vitriol, slighter indications of the presence of smilacin than the non-mealy sorts; 2dly, the mealy sorts are the least acrid to the taste; and, 3dly, the largest quantity of extract is obtained from a non-mealy sort, viz., that brought via Jamaica.
In England the non-mealy sarsaparillas are almost universally, and, as I believe, properly preferred; and of these the Jamaica sort is most esteemed, and next to this, that called the Lima.
The colour of the root is not to be absolutely depended on, but roots having a deep orange-red tint are preferred. Taste, perhaps, is the best criterion: the more acrid and nauseous the taste, the better is the quality of the root. This test has been much insisted on by Dr. Hancock. [Transactions of the Medico-Botanical Society, 1829.] The quantity of extract yielded by a given weight of the root has been much insisted on by Mr. Battley and Mr. Pope as a test of goodness; both these writers have asserted the superiority of Jamaica sarsaparilla, because it yields a larger quantity of extract. But though a sarsaparilla which yields very little extract cannot be regarded as good, yet it does not follow, especially in the absence of comparative trials, that a sarsaparilla which yields the most abundant extract is necessarily the best, since the quantity may arise from the presence of mucilage and other inert matters. The beard is another criterion of goodness: the greater the quantity of root-fibres (technically called beard), the better the sarsaparilla.
Continued on next page.