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Saw palmetto

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Serenoa repens, commonly known as Saw palmetto, is the sole species currently classified in the genus Serenoa.

It has been known by a number of synonyms, including Sabal serrulatum, under which name it still often appears in herbal medicine books.

Indigenous names include: tala (Choctaw); cani (Timucua); ta ́:la (Koasati); taalachoba ("big palm", Alabama); ta:laɬ a ́ kko ("big palm," Creek); talco ́:bˆı ("big palm," Mikasuki); talimushi ("palmetto's uncle," Choctaw), and guana (Taino, possibly).


Saw palmetto is a small palm, growing to a maximum height of around 7–10 ft (2–3 m). Its trunk is sprawling, and it grows in clumps or dense thickets in sandy coastal lands or as undergrowth in pine woods or hardwood hammocks.  Erect stems or trunks are rarely produced but are found in some populations.

It is also a hardy plant; extremely slow growing, and long lived, with some plants, especially in Florida where it is known as simply the Palmetto, possibly being as old as 500–700 years.

Saw palmetto is a fan palm, with the leaves that have a bare petiole terminating in a rounded fan of about 20 leaflets. The petiole is armed with fine, sharp teeth or spines that give the species its common name. The teeth or spines are easily capable of breaking the skin, and protection should be worn when working around a Saw Palmetto.

 The leaves are light green inland, and silvery-white in coastal regions. The leaves are 1–2 m in length, the leaflets 50–100 cm long. The flowers are yellowish-white, about 5 mm across, produced in dense compound panicles up to 60 cm long.

 The fruit is a large reddish-black drupe and is an important food source for wildlife and historically for humans.


 Saw palmetto is endemic to the southeastern United States, most commonly along the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal plains, but also as far inland as southern Arkansas.


The plant has been used medicinally, for food and for general everyday use, by the Native American Indians for centuries.  Saw palmetto fibres have been found among materials from indigenous people as far north as Wisconsin and New York.  The leaves are used for thatching by several indigenous groups; so commonly so that there is a location in Alachua County, Florida named Kanapaha ("palm house").

The plant is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species such as Batrachedra decoctor, which feeds exclusively on the plant, indicating that the leaves contain toxins [Lepidoptera use the toxins in plants to protect themselves against predators].  But the fruit of Saw palmetto is edible, although it needs to be ripe, as the greener it is, the more bitter tasting it is.

Although the fruit of the Saw palmetto is nutritious being “highly enriched with fatty acids and phytosterols”, for example, much of the research on Saw palmetto has been on its medicinal properties.  The fruit, for example, has been the subject of intensive research for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), nonmalignant enlargement of the prostate, can lead to obstructive and irritative lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). The pharmacologic use of plants and herbs (phytotherapy) for the treatment of LUTS associated with BPH has been growing steadily. The American saw palmetto or dwarf palm plant, Serenoa repens (also known by its botanical name of Sabal serrulatum), is one of the several phytotherapeutic agents available for the treatment of BPH.
This systematic review aimed to assess the effects of Serenoa repens in the treatment of LUTS consistent with BPH…………………The evidence suggests that Serenoa repens provides mild to moderate improvement in urinary symptoms and flow measures. Serenoa repens produced similar improvement in urinary symptoms and flow compared to finasteride and is associated with fewer adverse treatment events. The long term effectiveness, safety and ability to prevent BPH complications are not known. The results of this update are in agreement with our initial review.  PMID:  12137626

Medicinal use

Illnesses and disease are caused by pathogens – toxins, parasites, viruses, bacteria, fungi, heavy metals, man made pharmaceuticals – as well as radiation, hypoxia, and nutritional deprivation.  Psychological trauma and stress do not cause disease directly, but they compromise the immune system, as such they are a big contributory cause.  This factor has become of especial importance now we know that a large number of viruses are ‘latent’ – that is despite the fact that the immune system may have created defences against them, they can lie low in a person’s body until their immune system is compromised and then re-emerge often years later.  We are apt to think that only viruses like the chicken pox virus is latent – remerging as shingles.  But all the herpes family are latent as are mumps, rubella, EBV, HPV, CMV and so on.


Thus there is not one cause of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, it could be any one of a large number.  The illness caused depends a bit on where the virus or pathogen was able to hide.

Thus testing Saw palmetto in clinical trials for six months is not only useless, it shows little understanding of the way illness works.  It may work, it may not – it depends on the pathogen.  Saw palmetto works against some pathogens, not all, so sometimes it will show efficacy [and it may need a longer trial to do so] and sometimes not.

It is worth mentioning that in numerous meta-analyses of clinical trials S. repens extract in the treatment of BPH have found it safe and in some cases effective.

Two large trials found the extract no different from placebo.  But this result is meaningless as again the cause was not investigated.  One major cause of BPH are the parasites passed in sexually transmitted disease.  There is little indication that Saw palmetto is suited to these  and the particular study population may well have been particularly vulnerable to this cause.  Then there are the links with some BPH and the Agent Orange used in Vietnam.......

So a lot of men were studied with not much effect because of the way trials are run based on symptom based medicine and not cause based medicine.

Another rather sad aspect of this navel gazing exercise by the men of the research community in the USA, is that all the other healing properties of Saw palmetto have been entirely overlooked.

Dr Duke’s less biased and much more methodical research has shown that there may be benefits for women too, as the fruit appears to have properties to help with Cervical cancer.

Many of the chemicals in Saw palmetto are such that at least some of its healing potential are due to its chelating ability.  Ferulic acid, as well as some of the lesser known chemicals are chelators, particularly of heavy metals.  And since heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury and aluminium are all possible culprits in some forms of BPH, as well as cancer, then this is how the plant is helping.

Dr Duke's full analysis is provided as an observation.


Related observations