Wild Sarsaparilla

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


Common Names

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

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


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.


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.


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


Up to 50 cm (19 in.) high.


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.


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


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.