Wild Sarsaparilla

Ojibway: Wabos’odji’bik
Latin: Aralia nudicaulis L.

Wild-Sarsaparilla

Common Names

  • False Sarsaparilla
  • Shot Bush
  • Small Spikenard
  • Rabbit Root
Description

A perennial herbaceous plant; a single leaf rises above the short flower stalk, both produced from a stout woody rhizome.

Flowers

Numerous in two to seven (usually three) umbrella or ball-shaped clusters on top of a leafless stalk; individual flowers very small, with five greenish-white petals; naked, flowering stems hidden under leaf; appearing early summer. It flowers in May to July.

Leaves

A single, long-stalked compound, basal leaf divided into three groups of three to five leaflets; leaflets elongated lance-to egg-shaped, finely toothed on the margins.

Fruit

Berries, nearly black when ripe, in a cluster; edible but not palatable; ripening mid-summer.

Height

Up to 50 cm (19 in.) high.

Habitat

Common; occurring across a broad range of forest habitats and soil/site conditions, especially in dry to moist hardwoods and mixed-woods, less often in coniferous forests and on moist/wet sites.

Range

Newfoundland to British Columbia, south to ?North Carolina and the Intermountain West.

Discussion

The rhizome was used by First Nations people both for medicine and as food. It was used to treat ailments such as shingles, recent wounds, cough remedy, and ulcers. Wine was made from the berries by European settlers and a form of root beer was made from the rhizome. In the 1800’s, sarsaparilla was popular as a spring tonic.