The Original Purpose Of Sarsaparilla Might Surprise You

When you think of sarsaparilla, you might have an image of a cowboy bellying up to a bar to sip on the drink. However, forms of the beverage have been around for many more centuries prior to the wild West cowboys. In fact, sarsaparillas were used in folk medicine and entered the international trade market in the 1530s. The drink originates from the Americas, but more specifically modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras (via Beverage History).

In the mid-19th century, chemists happened upon the drink by distilling the root of the sarsaparilla plant and mixing the distillate with sugar water. The drink eventually became the father of root beer. Both share flavors such as licorice, wintergreen, and a medicinal quality. Later in the 19th century, it fell out of favor. Until then, however, sarsaparilla was widely considered a health tonic, though it had more specific uses early on (via Serious Eats).

Sarsaparilla's earliest purpose had to do with STIs

Though sarsaparilla was widely consumed as a cure-all and considered a health drink, it was commonly thought to cure a couple of specific diseases. Most notably, many people believed sarsaparilla healed syphilis; others hailed it as a cure for herpes; and the drink was also thought to cure gonorrhea (via Serious Eats). Whatever the affliction might have been, chances are sarsaparilla was thought to be the answer.

Though the root beer-like drink won't help you with any STIs or other ailments, it's still a fun vintage drink to swig from time to time. Though the drink can be difficult to find since it is not nearly as popular as it once was, it is still possible to come across sarsaparilla today. You can order it online and have it shipped straight to your house. Serious Eats recommends Sioux City Sarsaparilla for its smooth taste and balance of punchy flavors such as vanilla, caramel, and wintergreen.