Definition of sarsaparilla in US English:



  • 1A preparation of the dried rhizomes of various plants, especially smilax, used to flavor some drinks and medicines and formerly as a tonic.

    1. 1.1 A sweet drink flavored with sarsaparilla.
      • ‘Go drown your sorrows at the local soda fountain in a tall, possibly dirty glass of sarsaparilla with the rest of the milquetoasts.’
      • ‘You don't think that she's just selling sarsaparilla in that bar of hers, do ya?’
      • ‘With barely time for the sarsaparilla he jokingly promised himself on the flight back to London last Friday, he is mapping out where the mobile phone giant will go next.’
      • ‘There was the festival's customary unlimited bowling, plenty of oat sodas, sarsaparillas and White Russians.’
      • ‘The characters are relaxing, enjoying mead, grog, and various other old-timesy type drinks that no one actually drinks anymore like sarsaparilla, sherry, or wine coolers.’
      • ‘To show how long ago it's been, Larry: in the shack in the evening around a sarsaparilla or two, we used to talk about how very soon that there would be live coverage of war.’
      • ‘And he had a reputation of being a bit of a dandy in college, because, you know, he'd have a glass of sarsaparilla.’
  • 2The tropical American climbing plant from which sarsaparilla are generally obtained.

    Genus Smilax, family Liliaceae: several species, in particular S. regelii, which is the chief source of commercial sarsaparilla

    • ‘The seeds of bristly sarsaparilla, currant, and soapberry lie dormant in the soil and germinate only after being burned; ecologists call the process ‘seed banking.’’
    • ‘Among the wildflowers are a red columbine, aster, figwort, wild sarsaparilla, fleabane, and avens.’
    • ‘China-root came from an Asian plant related to sarsaparilla.’
    • ‘Fruits and herbs to specifically reduce uric acid kidney stones are cherries, meadowsweet, sarsaparilla, Joe Pye weed, and plantain, which is widely used by the Chinese to treat kidney problems.’
    • ‘Herbs such as iris versicolor, mullein, red root bark, burdock, echinacea, cleavers, red clover, ginger, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, elder flower and yarrow are good lymph movers and detoxifiers.’


Late 16th century: from Spanish zarzaparilla, from zarza ‘bramble’ + a diminutive of parra ‘vine’.