Anna Fialkoff discusses wild sarsaparilla, a staple for hunting Native Americans and a cash cow for the Shakers.
by Anna Fialkoff
A. nudicaulis is a member of the ginseng family, growing on a single leaf stalk to about 18 to 24 inches. Tiny, greenish-white flowers in a ball-shaped sluster grow on a separate stalk from the leaf stalk and are found beneath a large, umbrella-like leaf. The flowers are followed in the fall by dark purple berries. These plants are often found growing in colonies from a single rootstock.
A. nudicaulis is native to the forests and woodlands of all six New England states. It is considered native to northern states, southeast through Georgia, west to Washington, and throughout Canada
Sarsaparilla was an important blood purifier, tonic, and food during war and hunting excursions for Native Americans.
The crafty Shakers of Canterbury, New Hampshire, produced a popular “sarsaparilla syrup”, selling about 7,000 bottles and 20 gallon jugs of syrup in 1864. By 1880, they reported sarsaparilla as their second highest income-producing venture after washing machines.
Find it at Garden in the Woods on Hop Brook Trail.
Please note: This article is for historical information use only. New England Wild Flower Society does not advocate the use of any native plants for medicinal purposes.
New England Wild Flower Society is part of the community of non-profits in Framingham, MA, which is collaborating on a town-wide celebration of the role the citizens of Framingham played in the Civil War for the 150th anniversary of that conflict. New England Wild Flower Society will offer several special tours of Garden in the Woods in April and August with particular emphasis on herbal plants used for medicinal purposes during the Civil War. In the fall of 2010, Anna Fialkoff, horticultural apprentice, constructed an herb garden including an herb spiral in the Idea Garden. Her notes are the basis of this series of articles.