Smilax (Smilacaceae) is a genus of about 350 species, found in temperate, tropical and subtropical zones worldwide. The plants belonging to this genus are found throughout Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas. Species of the genus Smilax commonly called sarsaparilla are characterized as climbers, with long, thin thorny stem. The branches have tendrils which attach to other plants or objects and grow steadily upward. The roots of these plants have been used for centuries in Asia and the Americas as a tonic, diuretic and sudorific. The rhizome, roots, stems and leaves of sarsaparilla are used in traditional medicine. In the scientific literature, there are several reports on immunomodulatory properties, anticonvulsant, antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer, antidiabetic and antioxidant properties. However, there are no reports which explain the antioxidant activity of sarsaparilla extracts as a function of phenolic compound structures, such as flavonoids and phenylpropanoids. In this chapter, the relevance of phenolic chemical structure in antioxidant and anticancer activity of sarsaparilla extracts will be described. Special emphasis is placed on phenylpropanoid glycosides that consist of a sucrose core. These compounds are evidence of chemotaxonomy in the genus Smilax.
Part of the book: Phenolic Compounds