- Family Palmaceae
- Sabal serrulata syn. Seronoa repens
- Sabal, Shrub Palmetto, American Dwarf Palm, Cabbage Palm
- Because this herb exerts estrogen, androgen, and alpha-adrenergic blocking effects, the use of hormones or hormone-like drugs may need to be adjusted.
- The herb should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Indigenous to North America, this small palm tree can be found growing in sand dunes along the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts from South Carolina to Texas, where it forms scrub for hundreds of miles along the coastline from Georgia to Florida. Rarely more than a few feet high, the plants are not impressive, but their fan-shaped leaves do form a dense brush making it almost impossible to pass through them. The tree produces long, sword-like fans of yellow-green leaves and ivory flowers. The purplish-black berries, which have a nutty, vanilla flavour, form in the center of the leaf fans and are harvested when ripe in the fall. These berries are similar to olives in their size and shape, with each containing one pale brown seed. The seeds are removed and the berry is dried.
The plant was first considered a nuisance and cleared from the land. Then settlers began to notice that their animals would lean over the fences to get at the black fruit. These animals were healthier than the ones who did not eat the berries, which prompted farmers to gather the plant and feed it to their animals, and then eat it themselves. The rest is history.
It was through Native American tribes, especially the Seminole Indians, that the healing aspects of the plant first came into recognition for what it is used for today. The Seminoles ground the berries into a nutritious flour. They also made an infusion from the berries to cure stomachaches and dysentery. The inner bark of the trunk was used as a packing on snake bites, insect bites, and skin ulcers. The dried fruits were useful for indigestion, respiratory infections, and cararrhal irritations. They, and several other tribes, utilized various parts of the plant to make baskets, brooms, and ropes.
It was included in the US National Formulary until 1950, when it was dropped because conventional physicians were not convinced of its effectiveness. Nevertheless, its popularity continued in Europe and has since regained its proper respect with a new breed of American physician.
Historically, Native Americans used saw palmetto for such urinary tract disorders as bladder inflammation and infection, as well as a diuretic. It was also used for respiratory diseases and reproductive tract disorders although it is mainly used for the prostate.
Since the 19th century, the fruit pulp has been used as a tonic for debility, urinary tract problems, and for reducing enlarge prostate glands.
The root doctors of the Louisiana bayou used the berries to treat syphilis and other infectious diseases.
- volatile oil (1-2%)
- fixed oil
- steroidal saponin
- vitamins and minerals (mainly zinc, phosphorus, chromium, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, silicon, and thiamin)
The herb has proven to work faster than Proscor, a drug prescribed for an enlarged prostate. New theories hold that the herb may inhibit the action of an important hormone-regulating enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, a process believed to be important in the development of both an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer. Preventing this conversion is also the way finasteride works, which is the standard medication. Furthermore, it does not impair sexual function as does finasteride.
Saw palmetto berries contain very high amounts of zinc, a mineral often used to treat prostate problems.
Infusions are used as a diuretic to improve urine flow, for irritable bladders, and to treat enlarged prostate glands. Tinctures are used for longterm debility. Nicknamed "the plant catheter", the herb is given to strengthen the neck of the bladder.
The berries are also used to treat respiratory tract problems, including coughs and colds, bronchitis, and asthma.
It is one of the few Western remedies that is considered to be anabolic, that is, strengthens and builds body tissues while encouraging weight gain. It is often given to those suffering from wasting disorders and failure to thrive. As a tonic, an infusion with two teaspoons each of saw palmetto and horsetail, one teaspoon of licorice root, and 200 ml water can be divided and taken twice a day.