Ayer's Sarsaparilla

From Kook Science

Ayer's Sarsaparilla
Ayer's Sarsaparilla (1889) - train engine.jpg

Medical Claims A tonic for "pure blood," "perfect digestion," "sound sleep," among other health and vitality claims.
Vendors J. C. Ayer Co.

Ayer's Sarsaparilla is the brand name for a tonic containing extract of sarsaparilla that was formerly manufactured and sold by Dr. J. C. Ayer Co. of Lowell, Massachusetts. It was promoted a "blood purifying" tonic that "tones and vitalizes the life current," among other such general health claims, under the slogan "It Makes the Weak Strong."


Oleson's Secret Nostrums and Systems of Medicine (1890), citing the Chicago Druggist, gives a formula as follows: fluid extracts of sarsaparilla (3 oz.), stillingia (3 oz.), yellow dock (2 oz.), and may apple [a.k.a. podophyllin peltatum] (2 oz.), with added sugar (1 oz.), iodide potassium (90 gr.), and iodide iron (10 gr.).[1] This formula corresponds with "a receipt given by Dr. Ayer himself," as in Dick's Encyclopedia or Practical Receipt and Processes (1884), though neglects the first ingredient: 3 oz. of alcohol.[2] The alcohol content was typically described as being close to 26%, greater than comparable sarsaparilla formulas of the period.

Another formula, dated to the early 20th century, adds and substitutes ingredients: sarsaparilla root (10 gr.); yellow dock root (8 gr.); licorice root (8 gr.); cinchona red bark (6 gr.); buckthorn bark (4 gr.); stillingia root (4 gr.); burdock root (3 gr.); senna leaves (2 gr.) black cohosh root (2 gr.); pokeroot (1 gr.); iodide of potassium (4 gr.); glycerin, C.P. (3½ drachms); oil of sassafras and wintergreen; water (to make one fluid oz.)



  1. Oleson, Charles W. (1890), "Ayer's Sarsaparilla", Secret Nostrums and Systems of Medicine: a Book of Formulas, p. 10, 
  2. Dick, William B., ed. (1884), "Ayer's Sarsaparilla", Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes (5th ed.), New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, p. 470,, "Take 3 fluid ounces each of alcohol, fluid extracts of sarsaparilla and of stillingia; 2 fluid ounces each fluid extracts of yellow-dock and of podophyllin; 1 ounce sugar, 90 grains iodide of potassium, and 10 grains iodide of iron. This is from a receipt given by Dr. Ayer himself."