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Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Greenbriar


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:

Smilax regelii

Botanical Family:

Smilacaceae

Other Common Name:

Green-Brier, Greenbrier, Sarsaparilla, Smilax (Austin, 2004; White, 2002; Schoenhals, 1988; Sánchez-Monge, 2001).

Common names in Spanish:

Cocolmeca*, Bejuco de chiquihuite, Bejuco de vida, Chiapahuac-xíhuitl, Cocolmacate, Cocomeca, Corona de Cristo, Cozolmecatl, Diente de chucho, Diente de perro, Kok-che’, Mecapatle, Raíz china, Raíz de cocolmeca, Taca, Ut, Zarzaparrilla (Adame and Adame, 2000; Quattrocchi, 2000; 2012; Wieresma and León, 2013; Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Torkelson, 1996; Martínez, 1989,1994; Schoenhals, 1988).

*In Mexico, various species of medicinal plants belonging to diverse botanical genera (e.g. Aristolochia, Dioscorea, and Milleria), are also known by the common name of “cocolmeca” (Quattrocchi, 2012; White, 2003; Agueta, 1994).

Where is it found?

Various species of these (mostly tropical) climbing vines, including S. cordifolia, S. mexicana, S. papyracea, and S. regelii, for example, are native to Mexico and Central America (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; Morton, 1981), and have been used in Mesoamerican traditional medicine for many centuries (Martínez, 1989).

Parts of the plant used:

The root and rhizomes (underground stems) (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Mabberley, 2008; Adame and Adame, 2000).

How is it used?

The rhizomes are edible. Decoctions made from the root are used both externally as well as internally. The crude drug (root), as well as capsules containing the pulverized root, are available in certain health food stores in both Mexico and the United States. The roots are a source of a natural dye.

What is it used for?

Some of the main active ingredients in various species of the genus Smilax are known as steroidal saponins (Bernardo et al., 1996). The root is decocted in water over a low flame and taken as a tea for weight loss, as a diuretic, for the treatment of kidney disease, for rheumatism, as an invigorating tonic, to lower fever, and for coughs. The tea is also used as a “blood purifier”, against venereal diseases (especially syphilis), and as an “aphrodisiac” or sexual stimulant. (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; Argueta, 1994; Morton, 1981; Penna, 1946).

The extracts of certain species of the genus Smilax, notably, S. cuculmeca, are reputed to be useful for the treatment of snakebite in Central America (Castro et al., 1999). Interestingly, various species of the genus Smilax are used throughout the world against rheumatism and blood disorders, venereal diseases (e.g. syphilis and gonorrhea), and to treat diverse skin ailments (Johnson, 1999; Morton, 1981).

Some species (e.g. S. glauca or “wild sarsaparilla” and S. medicinalis) are a main ingredient in the beverages commonly known in the USA as “sarsaparilla” and “root beer”. The term “sarsaparilla” in English is a corruption of the original Spanish word for the plant, zarzaparrilla or “brier and small grape vine” (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2008; Austin, 2004).

Safety / Precautions

  • The safety of using products made from this plant (either internally or externally) during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.
  • Avoid taking this plant during pregnancy and lactation.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!

References:

Adame J, Adame H. Plantas Curativas del Noreste Mexicano.
Monterrey, N.L.: Ediciones Castillo; 2000; p. 76.

Argueta A. Atlas de las Plantas de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana Vol. 1.
Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista; 1994; p. 478.

Austin D. Florida Ethnobotany.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2004; pp. 628-632.

Bernardo RR, Pinto AV, Parente JP. Steroidal saponins from Smilax officinalis.
Phytochemistry. 1996; 43(2):465-9.

Castro, O, Gutiérrez, JM, Barrios, M, Castro, I, Romero, M & Umaña, E. [Neutralization of the
hemorrhagic effect induced by Bothrops asper (Serpentes: Viperidae) venom with tropical plant
extracts]. Revista de Biología Tropical. 1999; 47(3):605-16.

Johnson T. CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1999; pp. 782-784.

Mabberley D. Mabberley’s Plant Book 3rd ed.
London: Cambridge University Press; 2008; p. 802.

Martínez M. Las Plantas Medicinales de México.
México, D.F.: Editorial Botas; 1989; pp. 70-73.

Martínez M. Catálogo de Nombres Vulgares y Científicos de Plantas Mexicanas.
México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica; 1994; pp. 193-194.

Mendoza-Castelán G, Lugo-Pérez R. Plantas Medicinales en los Mercados de México.
Chapingo, Estado de México: Universidad Autónoma Chapingo; 2011; pp. 316-317.

Morton JF. Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America: Bahamas to Yucatán.
Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas; 1981; pp. 82-85.

Penna M. Dicionario Brasileiro de Plantas Medicinais 3ª ed.
Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Kosmos Editora; 1946; pp. 348-349.

Quattrocchi U. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names (Vol. 4).
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2000; pp. 2499-2500.

Quattrocchi U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (Vol. 5).
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 300-306.

Sánchez-Monge E. Diccionario de Plantas de Interés Agrícola Vol. 1.
Madrid: Ministerio de Agricultura; 2001; p. 999 -1000.

Schoenhals L. A Spanish-English Glossary of Mexican Flora and Fauna.
Mexico City: Summer Institute of Linguistics: 1988; pp. 33,199.

Torkelson A. The Cross Name Index to Medicinal Plants. Vol. 3.
Boca Raton, FL.: CRC Press; 1996; pp. 1243-1244

White R. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Names of North America Including Mexico.
Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003; pp. 124,183.

Wieresma J H., León B. World Economic Plants, a Standard Reference 2nd ed.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2013; pp. 640-641.