The American Saw Palm does not really resemble the tropical beach palms of holiday posters. It seldom reaches more than one metre high, although it does occasionally reach greater heights in the form of an impenetrable bush. It is not inconspicuous with its gleaming fresh green fan shaped leaves and its favoured growing conditions are tropical heat and sandy soil.
However, it possesses something which none of its nobler relations can boast -a fruit which has been used medicinally for centuries. Sabal serrulata has long been known to Florida's native population, the Seminole.
Saw Palmetto grows exclusively in Florida, in the southeast of the USA. Sabal serrulata, which is the Latin name for American Saw Palm, is found to the north of the Everglades, where the climate is hot and dry.
Experience has shown that the most effective means of obtaining a good, healthy crop is carefully to select a natural cultivation and devote time and energy to ensuring that the wild palms have room to grow and are not overgrown by forest or other plants. To this end the cultivators, Plantation Medicals, ensure that roughly one square kilometre is fenced off, far away from industrial areas and citrus plantations which could be a source of contamination, and laid out to ensure that organic cultivation takes place.
Wild fires are an integral part of plant communities in Florida so the cultivators engineer controlled bush fires to ensure that the ever present threat of natural fires in this tropical climate is forestalled. The stems of the Saw Palm, which lie partially on the ground, survive the fire undamaged and afterwards have more space in which to spread. In this half wild shelter, the dwarf palms are left to themselves and not exposed to any kind of herbicide, fungicide or other chemical agent.
Working by hand under the scorching sun
When the fruit of the Saw Palm is ripe, the harvest workers must go out to the fields and hand pick the berries in seering temperatures ranging from 35 to 42 degrees centigrade. A plant normally contains from 50 to 100 berries, although in certain circumstances the larger palms can have even more. The fully developed berries are almost as big as olives but are not really edible. In the fresh state in which they are harvested, they are green, orange or black in colour. Sometimes all colours can be found on the same panicle at the same time.
Following harvest, Plantation Medicinals carefully dries the berries. Workers oversee this process in the sweltering heat of the drying chamber to ensure that the drying takes place evenly, so they are not subject to deterioration during their journey to Switzerland. Finally the wrinkled, blackened fruits are packed into sacks for shipping.
On one of his visits to the USA, naturopath Alfred Vogel discovered the Saw Palm and learned that the local tribe, the Seminole, had used the Saw Palmetto fruit for hundreds of years for many conditions.
Alfred Vogel took a quantity of berries back to his clinic in Teufen and, based on his discussions with the Seminole, used them to treat a sick ram which quickly recovered from a most uncomfortable condition. He became convinced that the oil in the berries could be of great benefit to men also.