By: DJ

One form or another of Smilax grows every where around the world. It is listed as a famine food. No matter what variety grows in your area you can eat most parts of it cooked, and much of it raw. The only non edible parts are the woody stems that are just not soft enough to eat,  no matter how much you cook them. They, however, make great baskets and if you leave the thorns on in appropriate places make great traps as well.

Smilax is that prickly briar vine with the glossy leaves and small thorns on the stems that grows in all the wrong places. In your favorite bush or hedge...and in trees or across the path you want to walk down...just waiting to catch your ankles or your hair or pull a thread in your favorite shirt. The thorny things have been seen to grow several feet in one 24 hour period on our property. My Aunt I have been keeping the young shoots from invading the garden by cutting and eating them as we tend the garden. The flavor of the young shoots of the variety we have, taste much like the flavor of young green beans picked and eaten as you harvest the row. Very green.

In Florida and much of the South this treacherous vine is called Bamboo Vine. You can find it almost anywhere and can eat it in any season. One variety is called Sarsaparilla, and can be used the same way Sarsaparilla is is only a little milder flavored.

The root is cooked. It is rich in starch, and can be dried and ground into a powder to be used as a flavoring in soups etc or for making bread. The root can be up to 15 cm thick.

Young shoots can be cooked and used as an asparagus substitute.

Young leaves and shoots can be eaten as picked or used in a salad. Older leaves can be cooked and seasoned with a little oil or margarine and seasoned to taste.

The berries are edible but in most cases have NO flavor. The variety above has red berries, Bamboo vine has black ones, and some varieties have yellowish or white berries.

Medicinal Uses
(These are claims I have read and haven't tried, so use your own judgment when trying them.)

  • Astringent; Birthing aid; Poultice; Rubefacient; Tonic. 

  • The stem prickles have been rubbed on the skin as a counter-irritant to relieve localized pains, muscle cramps and twitching. 

  • A tea made from the leaves and stems has been used in the treatment of rheumatism and stomach problems. 

  • The wilted leaves are applied as a poultice to boils. 

  • A tea made from the roots is used to help the expelling of afterbirth. Reports that the roots contain the hormone testosterone have not been confirmed, they might contain steroid precursors, however. 

  • The root bark is astringent and slightly tonic. An infusion of the root bark has been used as a wash in treating burns, sores and pox.

  • Smilax is very high in Vitamin C and is a good source for many other vitamins as well.

Your local agricultural extension office will know all about the variety in your area as agriculture regards it as a pest. They will have leaflets full of info, drawings, and photos. They will NOT likely have any information about it's usefulness. However, once you have established which variety you have, you can put that in the search engine and find more information. I use about 10 different search engines and I use them separately.

Try to keep this weed/pest in mind if you ever find yourself with out food resources. It will keep you going and as healthy as you can expect under those circumstances.