Sarsaparilla is a woody vine that can grow up to 50 m long, with paired tendrils for climbing high into the rainforest canopy.
The Gumbaynggirr sucked the fresh red leaves of Austral sarsaparilla (Smilax australis) to dampen a dry mouth. The thorns give it the common names of ‘wait-a-while’ and ‘barbwire vine’. It is an important story and medicine plant, and the stems were used in basket weaving.
The soft, young, red leaves of the Sweet Sarsaparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) less vigorous and with less rounded leaves are edible and were a popular snack. The leaves have a sweet sarsaparilla flavour and are still used to make sarsaparilla tea.