sarsaparilla (särsˌpərĭlˈə, săsˌ–) [key], common name for various plants belonging to two different classes and also for an extract from their roots, formerly much used in medicine and in beverages. True sarsaparilla is obtained from various tropical American species of the genus Smilax (which also includes the greenbrier) of the family Smilacaceae, sometimes joined in the Liliaceae (lily family). These have thick rootstalks and thin roots several feet long. Other plants used as substitutes for sarsaparilla include the wild sarsaparilla ( Aralia nudicaulis, although S. glauca also bears that name) and the American spikenard ( A. racemosa ), both North American plants of the family Araliaceae (ginseng family). The Liliaceae are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Liliales. The Araliaceae are in the class Magnoliopsida, order Apiales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on sarsaparilla from Fact Monster:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Plants