wild sarsaparilla

(Aralia nudicaulis)

Conservation Status
wild sarsaparilla
Photo by Luciearl
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5? - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Wild sarsaparilla is a 12 to 24 tall, erect, perennial forb. There is no aerial stem. It rises as basal leaves and a flowering stalk (peduncle) from the tip of a long, creeping, 1¼ to 4¾ deep, underground stem (rhizome). It often forms colonies.

In mid-April or May usually one leaf, sometimes two or three leaves, emerge from the leaf litter. The leaves expand in early spring before the canopy closes. Each leaf is deciduous, 6 to 15¾ long, is on a long leaf stalk (petiole), and is divided into three compound segments. The petiole is slender, 6 to 13¾ long, light green to dark red, and hairless. It is not spiny. Each primary segment is pinnately divided into usually 5, sometimes 3 or 7, leaflets. The two lateral segments are distinctly asymmetrical, with the inner (toward the terminal segment) leaflets smaller than the outer (toward the petiole) leaflets.

The leaflets are narrowly elliptic to broadly egg-shaped, 1¼ to 6 long, and up to 2 wide. The leaflet blade is rounded, narrowed, or somewhat heart-shaped at the base and tapered to a sharp point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The lateral leaflets are slightly asymmetrical at the base. The upper surface is green and hairless. The lower surface is slightly lighter green and minutely hairy along the main veins. The margins are finely toothed with sharp, forward pointing teeth.

The inflorescence appears in May to June. It is a single umbrella-shaped cluster (umbel) of usually 3, sometimes only 2 or as many as 7, umbrella-shaped, secondary clusters (umbellets) of flowers. Each primary umbel is on a long peduncle that rises from the rhizome and has up to 40 or more flowers. The peduncle is 3 to 10 long, leafless, and minutely hairy toward the tip. It is usually much shorter than the petiole, causing the inflorescence to be hidden beneath the leaves. Each umbellet is globe-shaped, about ¾ tall, and 1½ to 2 in diameter.

The individual flowers are to 3 16 wide. The sepals are insignificant. There are 5 petals, 5 stamens with white anthers, and 5 styles. The petals are white or greenish-white, 1 32to 1 16 long, and strongly bent backward. The stamens have long white filaments that project well beyond the petals. The styles are fused together at the base and strongly appressed together for the rest of their length.

The fruit is a globe-shaped, ¼ to long, purplish-black berry with usually 5 seeds. It matures in about 32 days. It is edible but is not palatable.




12 to 24


Flower Color




Similar Species


Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) is a much larger plant, up to 60 tall, that rises on an aerial stem. The stem is leafy and sharply bristly at the base.

Northern shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) seedlings look similar to flowerless wild sarsaparilla plants. The outer (closest to the petiole) leaflets of hickory leaves are always smaller than the inner (closest to the terminal segment) leaflets.


Moist to dry. Deciduous and mixed woodlands, thickets, river bottoms, prairie edges, bog edges. Shade tolerant.




May to June


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Apiales (carrots, ivies, and allies)  


Araliaceae (ivy)  
  Subfamily Aralioideae  
  Tribe Aralieae  


Aralia (spikenards)  

Subordinate Taxa








Common Names







wild licorice

wild sarsaparilla












Compound leaf

A leaf that is divided into leaflets, each leaflet having the general appearance of a leaf, with all leaflets attached to a single leaf stem.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



In angiosperms, the stalk of a single flower or a flower cluster; in club mosses, the stalk of a strobilus or a group of strobili.



On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.



On a compound leaf, having the leaflets arranged on opposite sides of a common stalk. On a bryophyte, having branches evenly arranged on opposite sides of a stem.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



A flat-topped or convex, umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers or buds arising from more or less a single point.



A secondary umbel in a compound umbel.

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Usually I've just seen the plant without the flower (which is underneath), but this year looking at it closely. OH!, this flower actually goes to this set of leaves which I see everywhere in my surroundings.

  wild sarsaparilla  

Bill Reynolds

    wild sarsaparilla      
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos


    wild sarsaparilla   wild sarsaparilla  
    wild sarsaparilla      


    wild sarsaparilla      


    wild sarsaparilla   wild sarsaparilla  


    wild sarsaparilla   wild sarsaparilla  



  Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)  

Preferred spring food of Moose, Whitetail Deer. Black Bear consume the fruits.

Birds: Food for Ruffed Grouse and thrushes

Used by Native Americans to brew a tea

Rhizomes have been used to make beverages such as root beer.

Alterative, pectoral, diaphoretic, sudorific. Used as a substitute for Smilax Sarsaparilla is useful inpulmonary diseases and externally as a wash for indolent ulcers and shingles. It is said to be used by the Crees under the name of Rabbit Root for syphilis and as an application to recent wounds. It contains resin, oil, tannin, albumen, an acid, mucilage, and cellulose.

Emerges from leaf litter by mid-April or May;

Leaves expand before the canopy closes.

Flowers May/July.

Fruits mature in about 32 days.

Leaves begin to drop by mid-September.

Dormant in winter.

Other common names include Aralia, False Sarsaparilla, Wild Sarsaparilla, Shot Bush, Small Spikenard, Wild Liquorice, Rabbit Root, Salsepareille

from www.rook.org/earl/bwca/nature/herbs/aralianud.html




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Other Videos
  wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis )

Published on Apr 23, 2012

wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) plant

  "The Herb Guy" How to Identify Wild Herb Sarsaparilla

Uploaded on Aug 9, 2010

How to identify the healing herb wild Sarsaparilla in early spring, the best time to dig up the root for for killing Lyme disease.

  Wild Sarsaparilla

Published on Jul 25, 2013

No description available.




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Location: Lake Shore, MN

Usually I've just seen the plant without the flower (which is underneath), but this year looking at it closely. OH!, this flower actually goes to this set of leaves which I see everywhere in my surroundings.

wild sarsaparilla  
  Bill Reynolds

Location: Pennington Co.

wild sarsaparilla  
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