Discovering Herbs: Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata)
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.
‘Proud princes on distant shores’ was how the great botanist Carl von Linne once described tall, majestic palms, of which there are approximately 3000 types worldwide. However the American Saw Palms cannot really be described in these terms as they seldom reach more than one metre, although the plant can occasionally grow into an impenetrable bush several metres in height.
Alfred Vogel discovered the Saw Palm during his exploration of the Americas in the 1950s and learned that the Native Americans in Florida, the Seminole, had used the fruit of saw palmetto for hundreds of years for many conditions such as the onset of prostate enlargement and bladder infections.
This dwarf palm grows in dense pine forests, tropical heat and sandy soil being its favourite territory. With its gleaming fresh green fan-shaped leaves and dark red fruit it possesses something which none of its nobler relations can boast - a fruit which can relieve prostate problems.
As men get older, enlargement of the prostate, or Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH) as it is known medically, commonly occurs. BPH causes a disruption to the flow of urine resulting in frequent urination, particularly at night, poor or painful urine flow and dribbling.
Problems caused by enlargement of the prostate are very common and are increasingly prevalent in men over 50. Once malignancy has been ruled out, the Saw Palmetto fruit, in tincture or tablet form, provides an effective natural remedy. The dark red fruit contains a volatile oil which is one of its main active ingredients.
Hormonal changes are believed to be a major factor in causing enlargement of the prostate. The changes lead to an increase in di-hydrotestosterone (DHT) which increases the number of cells in the prostate gland, resulting in its enlargement and associated problems.
Saw Palmetto inhibits the hormone metabolism which leads to BPH and has anti-inflammatory properties. There have been several European trials looking at its effectiveness. It has been found to be at least as effective as orthodox drug treatments in inhibiting the formation of DHT. A German study of 1334 patients, published in Fortschritte de Therapie, 1993, found that Saw Palmetto was effective in over 80% of cases.