American Sarsaparilla (Spikenard) – Aralia racemosa

Current Demand = Normal
Demand: Poor – Normal – Good

Parts Used: Root
Current Market Price = $ varies/lb.

American Sarsaparilla (Spikenard) - Aralia racemosa

 American Sarsaparilla (Spikenard) - Aralia racemosa

Family: Ginseng (Araliaceae)
Common Names: American spikenard, Spignet, pettymorrel, Nard


Wild Sarsaparilla is a perennial herb that grows up to 2 feet in height. The leaves are large and round with long, pointed tips. The flowers are tiny clusters of pale green to white that bloom from May to July and are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. The plant produces a red to dark purple berry in the late summer.

Growing region: The wild sarsaparilla can be found in the Eastern North America, south to Georgia, and west to Kansas. It can be found in rich wooded slopes and ravines, along moist ledges and bluffs and crevices of rocky situations.

Parts used: root

The rhizome is 4-8 inches and up to several inches in thickness. It has a light brown color outside with a white interior. There are scars from previous years of growth, the deeper the scar the older the root. The rootlets can grow up to 3 feet and are about one inch thick. They also are brownish in color on the outside but have a reddish hue on the inside. There is an aromatic odor and it has a spicy balsamic taste.The rootstock is harvested in the fall after the berries have ripened and the leaves begin to fade.

Do not harvest the plant if it has not produced berries. The plant does not produce berries until it has matured, usually 3-4 growing seasons. Only take mature plants leaving plenty of small, immature plants to reseed the area for future harvest. After harvest, remove all foreign matter (rocks, weeds and other roots) and spread in a thin layer immediately. When possible dry indoors in a well ventilated barn loft or attic to protect from the elements. If natural heat is not available you may need to add heat and a fan for continuous airflow. You will need to turn or stir the roots daily. The key to drying any root, herb or bark is an even combination of heat and airflow.

Never dry in an oven or microwave. The wild sarsaparilla will be completely dry (largest stem will snap not bend) in 3-7 days depending on the drying conditions. Once it is dried place the roots carefully into a cardboard box or paper bag for storage in a dry area until you are ready to sell or use. Never store wild sarsaparilla in plastic or it will mold.


The plant prefers light, medium and heavy soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic soils. It can grow in full shade or semi-shade. It requires moist soil that is well drained. Propagation Seed: seeds are best sown as soon as ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed requires 3 – 5 months of cold stratification. Germination usually takes place within 1 – 4 months. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse for at least their first winter. Transplant them to permanent homes in early summer.


Divide sucker when the plants are dormant in the fall or early winter. These can be directly replanted into permanent homes. Root cuttings should be at least 8cm in length and can be done in late fall or by the first of December. Place in a cold frame. Replant in spring.