Aralia nudicaulis

Wild Sarsaparilla, Aralia nudicaulis

Family: Apiaceae, the Carrot Family

Description: Native perennial herb 20-40cm tall. Leaves with long stalks, divided into 3 groups of 3-5 leaflets. Stems smooth, woody at ground level.

Abundance: Common

Habitat: Woodlands

Plant Parts Used: Roots, fruits

Food: Tea, nibble

Medicine: Ginseng substitute, endurance, colds, tonic, strengthener

Ray nibbles on the root of wild sarsaparilla for food and uses it medicinally as a substitute for ginseng (Panax ginseng). The Abnaki used wild sarsaparilla as a blood-strengthening tonic, while many other Native American tribes drank this tea as a general tonic. Sue said that some Maine tribes used the tea of the fresh or dried root taken over time to increase endurance and energy for travel and competitions. Wild sarsaparilla is a close relative of ginseng and is valued for similar purposes—why not use the local alternative? Deb collects the rhizomes in the fall, dries them, and adds them to teas for its mild tonic and strengthening effects. Ray said that indigenous people in South America use a different Aralia species for trail food and “any kind of infection you can dream.” Terry-Anya and John enjoy the tea made from the roots. Sue also said the root and berries taken as a tea can treat lung infections and colds. The Mi’kmaq and Penobscot used this plant as a cough medicine.

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Hayes, Terry-Anya. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
  • Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
  • Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.
  • Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.