Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
Wild Sarsaparilla (also known as False Sarsaparilla,Shot bush, Small Spikenard, Wild Licorice, Rabbit Root) is a flowering plant of northern and eastern North America, including New York and the Adirondack Mountains. The species name, from the Latin nudus (naked) and cauli (stalk), refers to the leafless flower stalk. The plant reaches a height of 12 to 24 inches, with creeping underground stems. The single leaf stalk is divided into three parts, each with five oval leaflets. The leaves are finely toothed. Wild Sarsaparilla often grows in colonies from creeping underground stems.
In spring, the plant produces tiny greenish white flowers, usually in three globe-shaped clusters 1.6 to 2.0 inches wide. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees. The flowers later develop into purple-black berries, which are said to taste a little spicy and sweet. The seeds ripen from August to September.
This plant is very common in moist to dry woods throughout the north woods region, especially in lightly shaded open woods. Its range includes non-arctic Canada and northern and eastern US (south to Georgia in the east and west to Colorado and Washington).
The rootstock is said to be used as a favoring. It is a substitute for sarsaparilla and is also used for making 'root beer'. The plant was reportedly used by the Indians during wars or when they were hunting since it is very sustaining. Wild Sarsaparilla reportedly had a wide range of traditional uses amongst the North American Indians and was at one time widely used as a substitute for the tropical medicinal herb sarsaparilla. The aromatic roots were formerly thought to cure a variety of ailments.
Wild Sarsaparilla may be seen at the Paul Smiths VIC along many of the trails. It usually begins blooming in late May.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Native Plant Database.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Plants Database.
- Enature. Wildflower Field Guide.
- Plants for a Future. Database.
- Anne McGrath. Wildflowers of the Adirondacks (EarthWords, 2000), p. 10.
- Doug Ladd. North Woods Wildflowers (Falcon Publishing, 2001), p. 158.
- William K. Chapman, et al. Wildflowers of New York in Color (Syracuse University Press, 1998), pp. 118-119.
- Lawrence Newcomb. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Little Brown and Company, 1977), pp. 182-183.