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In A Nutshell – Saw Palmetto – Serenoa serrulata
by Jill Rosemary Davies

Native to North America, Saw Palmetto is a powerful herbal remedy, used primarily to relieve symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate: not only does it strengthen the reproductive system, but by regulating the sex hormones, it may improve a person’s vitality and sex drive. Renowned for its positive effects in the treatment of colds, asthma, and lung conditions, Saw Palmetto is also a tonic for stimulating the appetite, relieving fatigue, and restoring hair loss. Equally, this remarkable herb can nourish the urinary tract and kidneys, boost energy, and stabilise emotions.

Contents

Introduction

Exploring Saw Palmetto

A History of Healing

Anatomy of Saw Palmetto

saw palmetto in Action

Energy and Emotion

Flower essence

Growing, Harvesting and Processing

Preparations for Internal Use

Tincture

Syrup

Decoction

herbal tea (Infusion)

Capsules

Tablets

Stew

Natural Medicine for Everyone

Herbal Combinations

How Saw Palmetto Works

Glossary

Introduction

Traditionally used by Native Americans to promote strength, Saw Palmetto berries have become one of the principal natural choices in the treatment of an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia – BPH). The berries are regarded by some people as an aphrodisiac, mostly because they are competent at treating a range of endocrine (hormone) imbalances in men and women as well as being a general tonic.

The fruit of Saw Palmetto varies in shape from an irregular sphere to an oblong egg, and it has slightly wrinkled skin. In size, the berry is 1–2.5 cm (0.5–1 in) long and about 1 cm (0.5 in) in diameter. Its colour may be anything from green to a ripe deep reddish-brown or bluish-black. Within the berry lies a hard brown seed. There is generally no odour to Saw Palmetto, though some people speak of a nutty vanilla aroma. Its flavour, although sweetish is also slightly bitter, and the pulp has been described as soapy.

The stem of the plant grows to a height of approximately 1.8–3 m (6–10 ft), or even higher, forming what is called the 'palmetto scrub'. In fact it is a small palm, that may either grow upright, or may branch to grow flat across the ground or even become buried.

Between three and seven fan-shaped leaves grow from each stem annually. The length of the stems, together with the leaf scars, can be used to date the plants. Some elderly plants have been dated to between 500 and 700 years old.

The botanical names normally used for Saw Palmetto today are Serenoa serrulata and Serenoa repens. It also has several common names, such as saw-tooth palm, or windmill palm. The 'saw' part of the name comes from its sharp, teeth-like leaves, which can cut into flesh and clothes.

To ensure the best healing results, try to purchase Saw Palmetto that has been certified as organically grown. The herb is now available from a wide range of outlets including pharmacies and wherever supplements and homeopathic or herbal remedies are sold. It is also available by mail order. Advice on dosage may be obtained from an accredited herbal practitioner.

Definition

Botanical family: Arecaceae / Palmaceae family (Arecaceae in the US, and Palmaceae in Europe). This plant is related to the true palmettos from the genus Sabal. 

Species: Serenoa serrulata. It was formerly called Sabal serrulata by botanists, but is today commonly referred to as Serenoa repens by nursery growers and Serenoa serrulata by herbalists. Elsewhere in the world it may also be called Sabal serrulatum, Sabalis serrulato or Sabalis serrulatae. 

Exploring Saw Palmetto

Native to North America, Saw Palmetto is mainly found among the coastal dunes, sand hills and pinelands of the south-eastern states of the US, from South Carolina to Florida, and west to Louisiana, as well as in southern California.

Where to find Saw Palmetto

A hardy dwarf palm, Saw Palmetto is found most commonly in the sandy hinterland of the coastal regions of the south-eastern states. It grows wild in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina and is cultivated in southern California. It can also be found in other warm climates, such as the West Indies. Saw Palmetto is also a popular garden plant because it needs no fertiliser and is resistant to insects, drought and fire.

Commercial growers

Saw Palmetto has been grown commercially in the US for decades and currently about 175,000 acres of the plant are under cultivation there. Initially, most of the crop supplied the European herbal market. Now, interest in the US has meant increased demand for this herb and therefore a need for additional cultivation. Foreign investors have purchased farms in the south specifically to grow the plant and some ranchers are finding that it produces more profit than raising cattle. As a result, a growers' cooperative has also developed in the region.

Requirements for growth

When grown in its natural habitat, Saw Palmetto requires little assistance to support its growth. Indeed, the plant is so hardy that pioneer settlers in the south-eastern states, wishing to clear the land to grow other crops, found that it was impossible to eradicate the plant – it was resistant to fire. Instead, it was necessary to remove each plant by hand, separately, until machinery was introduced to facilitate the task.

A History of Healing

Native Americans knew of the healing powers of Saw Palmetto long before European settlers came to North America. Traditional plant remedies were the only medicines available and Saw Palmetto berries were taken to treat ailments ranging from painful urination to lack of appetite. Today research supports many of the plant's historical uses.

It is known that Native Americans regularly consumed both fresh and dried Saw Palmetto berries as a tonic. They had probably seen animals eat the fruit and then tried it for themselves. One recent report confirms the appetite that some animals have for Saw Palmetto, stating that an adult female bear was found to have consumed more than 13.5 kg (30 lb) of the plant's fruit.

In the early 1700s it was observed that Saw Palmetto berries were vital to the native tribes of the Florida peninsula: they used them to treat inflammation of the prostate and atrophy of the testes. The berries were also used for cases of impotence and to stimulate sexual activity in men. More generally, they were taken as a wide-acting tonic.

Native Americans did not only use Saw Palmetto medicinally; tannin from the stems was employed to cure hides, while the leaves and branches were utilised to make items such as baskets, brooms and hats.

Early European settlers in North America used Saw Palmetto berries to treat disorders of the genitourinary and reproductive systems.

The berries, although usually known for their treatment of conditions suffered by men, were historically used to treat women too. In particular, they were taken to alleviate painful periods and infertility. They were also prescribed to stimulate the growth of under-developed breasts and to increase the amount of milk produced by nursing mothers.

Historically, the berries have also been used as a bronchial expectorant and tonic, as well as an appetite stimulant and an anti-inflammatory agent.

European settlers

It was not until the late 19th century that the white European medical community began to take an interest in Saw Palmetto. Farmers had reported that their animals appeared in particularly good health when they had eaten the fruit of the plant. Decoctions were soon being tested by herbal practitioners, and articles about the plant's beneficial effects began to appear.

By the end of the 19th century, physicians of the Eclectic movement, which aimed to combine the best of scientific knowledge with traditional herbal remedies, are known to have included Saw Palmetto berries in their repertoire of herbs. Felter and Lloyd, for example, in their influential revision of King's American Dispensatory in 1898, referred to Saw Palmetto as 'the old man's friend' and clearly supported its use in relieving symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate, saying it could help treat irritation of the prostate, painful urination and dribbling of urine.

They also wrote that the berries had a direct influence on the glands of the reproductive system. As such, they said, the berries acted on the prostate, testes, ovaries and breasts, supporting their function and restoring them to normal size.

Recent history

After World War I, Saw Palmetto was considered one of the most important natural remedies in the southern states. Word of its healing powers began to spread worldwide and in the 1960s French researchers began to study the chemical constituents of the berries and their medicinal value. The result was the first trademarked Saw Palmetto product, Permixon, which was released in 1981.

Anatomy of Saw Palmetto

The berries are the part of Saw Palmetto commonly used for medicinal purposes. They contain a large number of natural chemicals that have beneficial effects on the entire body, but particularly the hormonal system – for example, improving prostate health.

Berries

Although Saw Palmetto berries are best known for their role in promoting prostate health, historically they have been used as a tonic, appetite stimulant, expectorant and nutritive. They are also capable (in a limited way) of normalising the function and size of reproductive organs: for instance, they can help reduce an enlarged prostate and can rebuild vaginal tissue post-menopausally, as well as increase the size of women's breasts.

Chemical constituents

When put through chemical analysis, Saw Palmetto extract is found to contain mostly fatty acids, which are probably the key vital component and comprise some 80 per cent of the active constituents. The extract contains small amounts of sterol compounds, which act in a similar way to oestrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, depending on whether it is taken by a man or a woman. Other constituents include small quantities of polyphenols (long-chain alcohols) and polysaccharides, as well as alcohols, diterpenes, sesquiterpenes, triterpenes, steroids, volatile oils and tannins. Sesquiterpenes are a type of compound that often tastes bitter and are present in many essential oils. They may be responsible for the plant's antiseptic action.

When fresh, about 87 per cent of the berry is composed of water, which reduces to about 7.5 per cent when the fruit is air-dried. The sweet taste of the extract is due to the presence of the natural sugars fructose, glucose and sorbitol, which account for some 10 per cent of the fruit.

Nutritional profile

A nutritional profile of the Saw Palmetto berry, calculated on berries that have been completely dried, shows they are very high in phosphorus and zinc and high in calories, chromium, crude fibre, niacin, potassium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), selenium, silicon and thiamine (vitamin B1). They contain average amounts of cobalt, dietary fibre, fat, protein, sodium, vitamin A and a little calcium and vitamin C.

Saw Palmetto in Action

Saw Palmetto berries are mainly known for their effect on the prostate. They are also useful in the treatment of sub-fertility and debility. While the plant has been under-researched, further investigation may reveal new uses for this wonderful Native American remedy.

How Saw Palmetto can help

  • Relieves the symptoms of enlarged prostate (BPH) and prostatitis (inflamed prostate).
  • Eases the urge to urinate frequently and improves poor urinary flow and incomplete emptying of the bladder.
  • Helps during cystitis and painful urination.
  • Helps nourish the urinary tract and kidneys.
  • Regulates the sex hormones in both men and women.
  • Supports the normal development and activity of the reproductive organs.
  • Promotes reproductive strength.
  • Helps the growth of new body tissue, especially reproductive tissue.
  • Helps restore lost hair.
  • Beneficial for colds, asthma, mucus and lung conditions.
  • Stimulates the appetite and can help people to regain weight (if underweight).
  • Helps to treat acne.
  • Beneficial in cases of thyroid deficiency.

How Saw Palmetto affects the body

Many of the body's systems are affected by the naturally occurring chemical constituents found in Saw Palmetto berries. In the main, however, they affect the genitourinary, reproductive and digestive organs. The herb is a prime nutrient and stimulant of the reproductive system, reputedly with progestogenic, oestrogenic and testosterone-like actions. Well known and regarded in the treatment of BPH, its effects on the reproductive system are believed to extend much further. For instance, it can be usefully taken by women post-menopausally or after the surgical removal of some reproductive organs. It can assist hormone production and help to prevent some post-menopausal degeneration, e.g. of bone mass, thinning of vaginal tissue and more.

Even though modern scientific research has not yet been able to substantiate the claims made for Saw Palmetto, it has been used for centuries as a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac, helping to raise general energy levels. As such, it has been prescribed by herbal practitioners and therapists for impotence or frigidity or simply for those with a temporarily absent or reduced sex drive.

For the digestive system, Saw Palmetto is given as a tonic to stimulate appetite and assist assimilation of food.

Effects

The most noteworthy therapeutic properties of Saw Palmetto berries are as follows:

  • Diuretic: Saw Palmetto has a therapeutic effect on the neck of the bladder and the prostate gland, promoting a good flow of urine.
  • Hormone tonic: This herb supports the organs of the endocrine system, including the adrenals, thyroid, ovaries and pancreas.
  • Tonic and nutritive: Saw Palmetto is used as a general tonic and also as a subtle booster for the sex drive and the immune system.

Caution

If you have an enlarged prostate, consult a doctor to rule out other, more serious conditions. 

Saw Palmetto and cancer

It is unfortunate that relatively few studies have been made of the possible uses of Saw Palmetto in the treatment of cancer, particularly of cancer of the prostate. In 1996, studies at the University of La Sapienza in Rome showed that extracts of Saw Palmetto berries could inhibit the activity of certain hormone-dependent prostate cancers. In 1997, in animal tests carried out by researchers H. Shimada, V. E. Tyler and J. L. McLaughlin in the US, two substances isolated from the berries, monolaurin and monomyristin had a moderate effect against certain cancerous pancreatic and kidney cells and a lesser effect against certain cancerous cells of the prostate. It is clear that Saw Palmetto needs to be examined more carefully and eventually tested in scientific conditions on humans to see if it may be of therapeutic value in treating cancer.

Proven results

Despite its long historical usage, medical studies of Saw Palmetto's effectiveness have been extremely limited. Scientific studies already discussed showed that two substances isolated from Saw Palmetto berries were moderately active in inhibiting some renal and pancreatic cancer cells. Also according to Kate Udall in Saw Palmetto: The Natural Choice for Prostate Health, preliminary data suggests that Saw Palmetto may be able to help people with thyroid deficiency.

When to avoid Saw Palmetto

Saw Palmetto berries are known to act upon the endocrine and reproductive systems and are therefore best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.

It is normally safe to take Saw Palmetto alongside other prescription medicines, but check with your doctor or qualified herbal practitioner first.

As Saw Palmetto can act upon the reproductive and endocrine systems, if you have a cancer that is stimulated by hormones, check with a qualified herbalist or medical practitioner before taking the herb. Limited research, however, suggests it could inhibit the activity of certain hormone-dependent cancers, e.g. of the prostate.

No significant side effects have been reported from either the use of Saw Palmetto products or the ingestion of crushed berries. There have been a few cases of very minor side effects, but they occurred in only a few people and were limited to gastrointestinal upsets and nausea. Detailed toxicological studies have also been performed using animals and no adverse effects were detected.

Allergic reaction to Saw Palmetto

There have been no reports in medical literature of serious allergic reactions against Saw Palmetto berries. As with almost any medication, there is a tiny risk of systemic allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. This is more likely in people who have already shown an allergy to other plant extracts or herbal remedies. In the case of a massive shock reaction call an ambulance or immediately take the person to the nearest accident and emergency department.

It is possible that people prone to allergic reactions might get a rash from handling the berries.

Energy and Emotion

Saw Palmetto can produce powerful and positive effects on an individual’s moods and emotions, and has a beneficial influence on energy levels. In particular, its actions as a tonic are known to improve feelings of physical and sexual well-being, and have a subsequently boosting effect on the emotions.

Helping appetite and digestion

Saw Palmetto berries are a traditional nutritive tonic, with an ability to support the pancreas, helping it to regulate the production of digestive juices. This can benefit overall health and energy levels. Certainly, many animals are believed to have benefitted from eating Saw Palmetto. For example, black bears are reported to have appeared sleek and vigorous after consuming the fruit. It seems, therefore that Saw Palmetto may have an important nutritional role to play in the treatment of diseases that rob the body of strength, or stunt growth, as well as in more common cases of fatigue and depression.

Energy and the mind

Because Saw Palmetto berries have supportive and balancing effects, they can give the people who take them a great sense of support and relief. The berries can build up all the cells and systems and correct low stamina. This in turn empowers the mind enormously as the ability to function at normal or even higher levels returns.

Flower remedies

Flower remedies are a very subtle form of treatment. By floating the flower of the plant in a bowl of water placed in sunlight, the vibration of the plant is infused into the liquid and preserved in alcohol. In this way, it is possible to administer the emotion and the spirit of the plant. Saw Palmetto displays a cluster of white flowers in the spring. Unfortunately, unless you live in the right climate, such as in California or Florida or the West Indies, there are few people who have easy access to them but, for those who do, gathering the fresh flowers is a worthwhile pursuit.

The Saw Palmetto flower remedy imparts a great deal of balance to the body, and is stimulating without any side effects, thereby giving pure support and a feeling of calm.

To make a flower essence – standard quantity

  • Use approx. 350 ml (1½ cups) each of spring water and brandy, and 3–4 Saw Palmetto flowers, carefully chosen and freshly picked.
  • Choose a very quiet spot indoors or a secluded area of the garden, or a sunny woodland if the weather permits. Submerge Saw Palmetto flowers in a shallow glass bowl containing the spring water.
  • Cover the bowl with freshly washed white muslin (cheesecloth).
  • Leave the bowl in the sunshine, next to a window if indoors. Try to make sure the flowers have at least three hours of continuous sun. If the flowers wilt sooner than this, as they may in fierce sunshine, they can be removed earlier.
  • After a few hours, use a twig to lift the flowers carefully out of the bowl.
  • Measure the remaining liquid and add an equal amount of brandy to preserve the liquid. Pour into sterilised dark glass bottles and label carefully.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 4 drops under the tongue 4 times daily, or every ½ hour in times of crisis.

Children: Over 12 years, adult dose.

Plant spirit energies

The spirit of Saw Palmetto is not the same as its flower essence, which is connected with the flowering aspect of the plant. The spirit of the plant means that every part of it can share its energy and properties with us. The inner character of every human being includes both male and female aspects. The essence of the Saw Palmetto flower has a harmonising effect on these complementary aspects. In both sexes it can be used to balance the emotions so that aggression can be toned down and timid feelings are corrected.

Saw Palmetto is often associated with love potions and other aphrodisiacs that increase sexual energy.

In energetic terms, Saw Palmetto is considered to be pungent, sweet and warm. These soothing flavours have a tonic and supportive effect throughout the body, particularly on the reproductive and hormonal systems and organs such as the kidney, liver, spleen and pancreas.

Growing, Harvesting and Processing

Growing

Commercial

Saw Palmetto is an easy plant to cultivate. It is grown commercially in the south-eastern United States. It is also native to this area, especially to Florida, where thousands of acres of dense thickets of the plant can be found in the Everglades national park. Commercial growing of Saw Palmetto began on a large scale in the 1960s, by which time the therapeutic value of the berries was becoming better known to a wider audience.

In the past, farmers anxious to grow other kinds of crops tried every means possible to destroy Saw Palmetto plants on their land. Today most citrus fruit production still occurs on land that was once covered with the herb.

Home-grown

If you are lucky enough to live in the right climate, such as between the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts from South Carolina to Texas, or in the West Indies, it is possible to grow your own Saw Palmetto or harvest it from the wild. It grows in abundance in the West Indies and parts of the south-eastern states of the US.

Saw Palmetto can be cultivated from seed. It can be found growing equally in well-drained soil or waterlogged areas, as in the Everglades. For people who live in less favourable climates, whole dried fruits can be purchased from most reputable herb stores or herb suppliers.

Harvesting

Saw Palmetto berries ripen and become ready for harvesting in late August, September and early October. The berries can be found on a seed stalk that emerges from the bottom of the bush. Early in the season, the berries are a yellowish orange colour. As the season progresses, the berries turn black and fall easily if shaken. 

Commercial

Earlier in the season, before the berries turn black, workers wearing protective clothing (the tough, thick leaf stems possess very sharp, saw-like teeth) cut away the seed stalk with a machete, then remove the berries by hand and place them in a bag. 

After the berries turn black, pickers use a variety of devices to catch the fruits. For example, one instrument resembles a dip-net for fishing. It is placed under the berry frond which is then hit with a stick so that the berries fall into the net.

Another danger is reported every year during harvesting: the eastern diamond black rattlesnake, which is often found in Saw Palmetto plantations in North America.

Home-grown

Home-grown harvesting of Saw Palmetto is the same as for commercial growing: it is labour-intensive work that is done by hand. So, whether in your own garden or in the wild, a sharp knife, good protective clothing and a bag in which to collect the berries are all essential.

Processing

Commercial

Saw Palmetto berries consist of about two-thirds water. Unless they are dried, they will spoil within a few days after picking, gathering unwanted microbes and losing their vital chemistry.

Different drying methods are used, including kilns. The berries are placed in the kilns to a depth of about 60 cm (2 ft). Controlled by a thermostat, the kilns maintain a constant high temperature while an air current is passed over them, helping to drive off moisture. The berries gradually start to shrivel and require regular turning by hand to make sure they dry evenly. When the moisture content of the berries has fallen to about 7.5 percent the heat is turned off and fans are used to cool the fruit back to room temperature.

The whole drying process may take as long as five days and uses hundreds of gallons of propane to dry each batch of berries. However, manufacturers believe that this particular processing method maintains the important volatile oil content of the berries and also helps to protect them from scorching.

Home-grown

If you live in an area where Saw Palmetto grows, such as Florida or the West Indies, the temperature and sunshine are perfect for drying the berries outside in the sun. To do this, cover them with shady netting to prevent scorching in strong sunshine and leave for several days, turning them regularly to ensure even drying. 

Once the berries feel dry enough, put them in a glass jar, put on the lid, and leave in the sunshine. If water droplets appear, dry the berries further before storing. When dry, put them in cloth bags or screw-top jars. Label them carefully since dried herbs can look similar to one another. Store in a cool dark place.

Preparations for Internal Use

Some scientists and herbalists believe that capsules containing extract of Saw Palmetto berries with a a standardised fatty acid content (around 80 per cent) are the most effective way to take this herb, because the fat-soluble active constituents are not as potent if the herb is taken in a water-based preparation. However, others prefer Saw Palmetto in tincture form, and it is certainly very effective. It is also possible to take the herb as a decoction, infusion, or syrup, and to use the berries in cooking.

Caution

Saw Palmetto preparations should not be taken in pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

Doses are given only as a guide. In the case of serious illnesses, such as cancer, always consult an accredited herbalist before using Saw Palmetto berries, or any other herbal remedy.

Tincture

The tincture is made by soaking chopped Saw Palmetto berries in alcohol. This has the effect of killing germs such as bacteria and fungi. Water is then added to the mixture, as some of the useful healing substances cannot survive long periods in high concentrations of alcohol.

When you are making a tincture, or any preparation for internal use, make sure you buy organically grown Saw Palmetto berries if possible. However, any well-dried whole berries, crushed just prior to preparing the liquid, will also make a very satisfactory tincture.

To make a tincture – standard quantity

  • As an approximate guide, use 225 g (8 oz) dried berries or 300 g (11 oz) fresh berries, washed and chopped into small pieces, with a total of 1 litre (4 cups) of vodka and water mixture. For the vodka, standard 45 per cent proof is effective, but 70–80 per cent proof is better. Proportions of vodka and water used will depend on the strength of the vodka: if using 45 per cent proof, you will use 80 per cent vodka and 20 per cent water; if using 70–80 per cent proof, you will use 40–50 per cent vodka and 50–60 per cent water.
  • Put the berries into a liquidiser or food processor and cover with the vodka (the correct proportion of 1 litre, as above). Blend the ingredients. If your liquidiser will not chop the internal seeds, chop the berries by hand. Dried berries may make the mixture a little stiff at first, making it difficult for the blades to turn, but persevere. If the berries are fresh, the high water content will make them easier to chop or blend.
  • When smooth, pour the mixture into a large dark glass jar with an airtight lid. Shake well, label the jar carefully, and store in a dark place.
  • After 2 days, measure the contents and add the water to make up the rest of the litre of liquid. However, if you have used fresh berries, only add half the quantity of water that is stated above (the total amount of liquid added will be less than 1 litre, because of the extra water content in the berries). Shake well.
  • Leave the mixture for at least 2 weeks, but preferably up to 4 weeks. Shake the jar daily to aid the extraction process.
  • At the end of the allotted time, strain the tincture through a jelly bag, preferably overnight, until you have the very last drop. For best results you can use a wine press.
  • Pour the liquid into dark jars and label clearly. Store in a cool, dark place. For personal use, decant into a 50 ml (2 fl oz) tincture bottle.

Recommended dosage:

Everyday use – adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) diluted in about 25 ml (5 tsp) water 2–3 times daily, for up to 3 months. 

Acute conditions – adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) diluted in about 25 ml (5 tsp) water every half hour until severe symptoms subside.

Long term use – adults: 5–10 ml (1–2 tsp) diluted in about 25 ml (5 tsp) water daily, for up to 1 year. With professional guidance, this treatment may be prolonged over a further period. 

Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16 years, consult a qualified herbalist.

Tinctures and cleanliness

When preparing tinctures, always make sure you use utensils that have been cleaned in boiling water. For best results, add one or two drops of antiseptic essential oil such as lavender, tea tree or thyme to the cleaning water.

Tinctures and the moon’s phases

There is much lore associated with the harvesting and use of healing plants, and Saw Palmetto is no exception. Even today, many herbalists make sure their medications are in phase with the natural world and advocate that the preparation of a tincture should coincide with the gravitational waxing and waning of the moon. To maintain this tradition, start making the Saw Palmetto tincture when the moon is new, then strain and bottle it at the time of the full moon.

Tincture syrup

It is possible that you will not like the taste of Saw Palmetto. If so the taste of the standard tincture can be improved, making the liquid sweeter by mixing it with smaller volumes of organic honey or maple syrup to taste.

To make tincture syrup – standard quantity

  • Mix 5 to 8 parts of Saw Palmetto tincture with 1 to 3 parts of cold-pressed organic or wild honey or maple syrup in a sterilised dark glass jar. The ingredients may be mixed in a ratio as high as 8 parts tincture to 1 part honey or as low as 5 parts tincture to 3 parts honey (sweetest).
  • Label the jar clearly and keep in a cool dark place. Shake well before dispensing each dose.

Recommended dosage:

Take as directed for a tincture, with extra volume to account for the amount of honey or syrup added.

Case study: enlarged prostate

Malcolm knew enough about men’s health care to have a check-up to exclude cancer when he developed symptoms of an enlarged prostate. Once that possibility was eliminated, Malcolm began his research into alternative treatments. He was surprised by the number of studies that showed Saw Palmetto berries to be beneficial. He decided to take 10 ml (2 tsp) tincture three times daily for a week then 5 ml (1 tsp) three times daily for 3 months. Malcolm felt better from the first week and it took only a few weeks for a marked physical improvement to occur.

Saw Palmetto decoction

Water-based processes can preserve some of the many medicinal qualities of Saw Palmetto. A decoction can therefore be a useful way to prepare the berries. Dried berries may be used, but fresh are best.

To make a decoction – standard quantity

  • Use 20 g (¾ oz) dried or 40 g (1½ oz) fresh Saw Palmetto berries, chopped (you can leave in the seeds) to 750 ml (3 cups) cold water.
  • Put the chopped berries and their seeds in a saucepan (a double boiler is ideal) with the water, and simmer on a very low heat for 20–30 minutes. During this time, the liquid should reduce by about one third.
  • Let the liquid cool, and then strain it into a pitcher.
  • Pour out a cup dose, then put the pitcher in a cool place or, if storing for longer than a day, in the refrigerator. If you are going to be travelling, try straining the mixture into a vacuum flask while it is still hot so you can take it with you.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 500 ml (2 cups) daily.

Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16 years, consult a qualified herbalist.

Decoction Syrup

This syrup is made in the same way as the tincture syrup, using a decoction instead of a tincture. You should take the same dose as you would for a tincture remembering to compensate for the volume of the honey if it is a significant amount.

Saw Palmetto tea (infusion)

For most of its therapeutic benefits, it is normally better to use a decoction of Saw Palmetto rather than an infusion. However, if time is short, a cup of Saw Palmetto tea is a quick and effective method for improving the appetite, and some people find that it is particularly beneficial in the treatment of various complaints connected with the kidneys and bladder. This ‘watery’ medicine eases urinary inflammation and pain, including cystitis, as well as acting as a sexual stimulant.

If you do not have a tea sock, you can make an infusion in a special teapot infuser or in a coffee pot with a plunger.

To make an infusion – standard quantity

  • For 1 cup: use 2–3g (1 tsp) chopped dried Saw Palmetto berries or 4–6g (2 tsp) chopped fresh berries to 250 ml (1 cup) of boiling water.
  • Put the prepared berries and their seeds in a tea sock and place in a cup or teapot. Pour on boiling water and leave to infuse for 7–10 minutes.
  • Remove the tea sock. Herbal teas are usually best drunk without added sugar or other sweeteners. However, Saw Palmetto has a distinctive flavour of its own, which you may find unpalatable. If desired, therefore, you can add 2.5ml (½ tsp) of cold-pressed, organic or wild honey to sweeten.
  • Alternatively, let it cool, keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator, and drink within 24 hours. If taken cold, add a sliver of lemon.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 500 ml (2 cups) daily.

Children: Over 12 years, adult dose. For children under 12 years, consult a qualified herbalist.

Capsules

You can purchase capsules made from the powdered berries or liquid extract, or you can make your own from powdered, dried Saw Palmetto berries. Either way, capsules make a very portable and convenient remedy.

As Saw Palmetto has fat-soluble constituents, it is not ideally suited to water and alcohol extraction processes. Capsules, therefore, can sometimes be better.

To make capsules – standard quantity

  • Approximately 500–600 mg of powdered berry fits into a size 00 capsule. Use vegetable gelatine capsules.
  • Put a little dried, finely powdered Saw Palmetto in a saucer and open up an empty capsule.

  • Using the capsule ends as shovels, push them together until each is full (one end will be less so), then slide the capsule ends together carefully.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 2 capsules 2–4 times daily.

Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For under 16 years, consult a qualified herbalist. 

Case study – disturbed sleep

Ian, aged 51, had just sent the last of his three children off to university. He had been looking forward to some rest, but found himself having to make several trips to the bathroom each night. Eventually, he went to see his doctor, who examined him to exclude prostate cancer. He had an enlarged prostate, which was not surprising, for it occurs in perhaps half of all men over the age of 50. Although surgery and various types of prescription medication were discussed, Ian was worried about the possible side effects. Fortunately, his doctor was familiar with Saw Palmetto and advised Ian to try it first. Ian took 1 capsule four times daily for one month, then 1 capsule three times daily for another 1½ months. By the time of the vacation, Ian was back to his old self again and happy that it was his children coming home late, not his need to urinate, that sometimes disturbed him at night.

Commercially made capsules

You can buy Saw Palmetto over the counter in capsules or tablets, but many people find that capsules are the easiest to swallow. Capsules can typically contain 160 mg of Saw Palmetto liposterolic extract, to be taken twice daily. Some capsules focus on the fatty acid content, which is typically between 75 and 95 per cent. Some people prefer this focus on chemical components, while others believe that nature delivers the ultimate combination and needs no adjustment.

Tablets

If you prefer tablets to capsules, you can make your own easily by combining finely powdered, dried berries with water. They should be made just prior to use, but can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a day as long as they are kept in an airtight container.

Saw Palmetto’s flavour helps to stimulate beneficial digestive reactions, but if you find it unpalatable you can sweeten the home-made tablets with a very small amount of honey.

To make tablets – standard quantity

  • Use 2–4g (1–2 tsp) finely powdered dried berries to 5 or more drops of bottled or spring water.
  • Mix a little water with the powder and roll into tablets of convenient size. For added sweetness, you can add a little maple syrup or honey. The overall consistency should be like pastry.

Recommended Dosage:

Adults: 2–3 tablets, each containing 500 mg of herb, twice daily.

Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16 years, consult a qualified herbalist.

Note: If you are buying capsules or tablets containing a combination of herbs or other ingredients, perhaps in a specific complex for an enlarged prostate, examine the ingredients list carefully to ensure you will still get a therapeutic dose of Saw Palmetto; it may have been reduced in quantity to make way for the other herbs or nutrients. Also check that there is as little additional material (tablet fillers, etc.) in the pill as possible – this way you can make sure you enjoy the benefits of as much of the real herb as possible.

Saw Palmetto stew

This is a lovely way of giving the healing components of Saw Palmetto to people who are convalescing. It can also be cooked with other fortifying vegetables to provide some variety and add to the nutritional content. As a variation, try making the stew with other beans, such as mung beans or soy beans, but remember to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

To make Saw Palmetto stew – serves 4–6

  • Use 1 large whole onion, peeled and chopped, 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 400 g (2 cups) canned tomatoes, 400 g (2 cups) canned flageolet beans, 400 g (2 cups) canned red kidney beans or butter beans, ½ tsp turmeric, 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried), 1 red pepper (chopped), 2 tsp celery seeds, 1 tbsp tomato puree, 1 level tbsp dried Saw Palmetto berries or powder (or 2 level tbsp fresh if available), ½ tsp medium-hot red chilli, chopped, 100 ml (1/3 cup) water.
  • Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F.
  • Put the onion, garlic, and olive oil in a pan and sauté for about 5 minutes until they are soft and translucent.
  • Transfer the onion and garlic to a casserole dish. Drain the tomatoes and beans and add, together with the remaining ingredients.
  • Cook in the oven for 1 hour.
  • Remove the stew from the oven and serve with leeks or green vegetables.

Natural Medicine for Everyone

Saw Palmetto is very safe and clinical trials have shown that side effects are very rare and limited. 

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Saw Palmetto berries contain constituents that have both oestrogenic and progestogenic effects on the body. It would therefore not be advisable to take it in pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Children

Little is known about Saw Palmetto as a children's remedy – either from written records or from traditional folklore. However, since the herb improves digestion and helps to put on body weight, it may have been used for underweight and sickly children in regions where it grew wild. Today, because of its slight hormonal effects, it is best to consult a herbalist before giving the herb to your child. A little of the herb in a stew would be a safe way for children to receive Saw Palmetto.

Elderly people

The elderly are perhaps the people who benefit most from taking Saw Palmetto berries. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) may affect half of all men over the age of 50, so the berry can be very important for alleviating the symptoms in a huge number of older men. In this way, Saw Palmetto can help cut the costs in the budgets of many health programs, which are usually oriented around expensive drug and surgical treatments. Saw Palmetto is also very nutritive and strengthening, which can be useful for some elderly men and women who have lost muscle mass and feel weak. Likewise, it could be of great value to post-menopausal women for helping stimulate weak amounts of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and alleviate many undesired symptoms of reduced hormone levels.

Caution

It is normally safe to take Saw Palmetto alongside other prescription medicines, but check with your doctor or qualified herbal practitioner first.

As Saw Palmetto can act upon the reproductive and endocrine systems, if you have a cancer that is stimulated by hormones, check with a qualified herbalist or medical practitioner before taking the herb. Limited research, however, suggests it could inhibit the activity of certain hormone-dependent cancers, e.g. of the prostate.

Case study: depression

Ben had been married for some 15 years when his wife announced that she was divorcing him. When she finally left, taking their children with her, Ben's life seemed to cave in around him. Although friends tried to help, he remained depressed, fatigued and quite unable to consider forming another romantic relationship. Finally he consulted a herbalist who advised him to take Saw Palmetto. He took 2 capsules (80 per cent fatty acid content), 3 times daily for 2 weeks and then 1 capsule three times daily for 4 months. As the months went by, Ben felt stronger and fitter than he had for years. Colleagues at work began to compliment him, telling him he was looking exceptionally well. Ben began to feel that he had found a 'secret weapon' to help keep him healthy and attractive. The future began to look more promising and the idea of having a special girlfriend was rather pleasing too.

Herbal Combinations

Herbal combinations are used to complement the effects of a single herb. However, if you have a serious medical condition or are taking prescribed medication, you should consult your doctor or qualified herbalist before trying these combinations. As with other Saw Palmetto preparations, these formulas should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Herbal treatments often contain one main ingredient, with others added to produce a healing ‘rainbow effect’. For example, in the first formula below, Saw Palmetto can increase urinary flow while other herbs soothe inflammation and help provide a good night’s sleep.

Enlarged or inflamed prostate

Enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) affects about half of all men over the age of 50 at some time. It is important for a holistic approach to the treatment of BPH to include measures that address wider issues than merely the prostate gland, including the health of the circulatory system and kidneys. Any stagnations or congestion needs to be resolved, and the kidneys will need support and a free flow through them. A combination formula can therefore be particularly supportive in this case. 

Formula: 4 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 1 part Juniper berries, 1 part Marshmallow root, and 1 part Corn silk.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 250 ml (1 cup) every 2 hours until acute symptoms subside, then 500 ml (2 cups) daily for 2–3 months.

Saw Palmetto is anti-inflammatory and an endocrine (hormone) balancer – both actions help to reduce the size of the prostate gland.

Juniper used to be limited in use; it is now understood to be a safe and healing urinary tract herb and in this formula will also provide an antibiotic-like action, helping to reduce inflammation. 

Marshmallow reduces inflammation and increases urine output.

The Corn silk is a soothing and healing diuretic, which regenerates the whole prostate, kidney, and bladder areas.

Vaginal dryness

During menopause (or after a hysterectomy), the vaginal tissue thins, and a sensation of dryness and increased sensitivity occurs in the vagina because its cells are losing their protective acid mantle. Some women also feel the vagina losing its elasticity, and it can even decrease in size. All these symptoms are due to lowered levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. The following tincture combination can help to rebalance them.

Formula: 2 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 1 part Agnus Castus, ¼ part Black Cohosh root.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3–4 times daily.

Saw Palmetto, Agnus Castus and Black Cohosh work hormonally in somewhat similar ways, in that they do not contain hormones, but they balance and induce hormonal activity. They balance and correct the drop in production of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone in particular and help maintain the cellular construction of the vaginal walls. Black Cohosh’s traditional name is ‘Squaw Root’, reflecting its enduring use for treating women’s problems. It also improves the circulation, which benefits vaginal health by improving blood flow to the tissues.

Inability to put on weight

Saw Palmetto is useful in diseases characterised by loss of strength and size, and general wasting of the body. It has been used successfully as a supportive treatment for people with tuberculosis. It is also a restorative for the convalescent who needs to regain weight and muscle. This tincture formula includes a number of additional supportive herbs.

Note that Gotu Kola should not be used if you have high blood pressure, a peptic ulcer or palpitations.

Formula: Equal parts of Saw Palmetto berries, Damiana leaves, Gotu Kola leaves, Fenugreek seeds. 

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3–4 times daily.

Gotu Kola is a cerebrospinal stimulant and nerve tonic and increases the heart’s muscular power. It is a very useful herb for convalescence. Damiana stimulates the central nervous system and supports the reproductive organs. Fenugreek’s nourishing seeds are useful in convalescence and to encourage weight gain (especially in anorexia).

In addition to this formula, it can be helpful to take Slippery Elm powder three times daily. Place 2 teaspoons of the powder and 150 ml (⅔ cup) of water in a jar, shake, and drink immediately. This is a quick way to build up the body. For children, consult a herbalist or other qualified medical practitioner.

Hair loss and unwanted hair growth

The hormone testosterone is found in many parts of the body, including the skin and hair, where it is converted into another hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Excess of this more potent hormone may lead to baldness in men, or hirsutism (excess hair in the wrong places) in men and women. Saw Palmetto can inhibit conversion of testosterone into DHT. 

As hair loss can also have other causes, including thyroid dysfunction, low iron levels and other underlying medical conditions, it is important to see your doctor to rule out any other causes before taking Saw Palmetto, as the herb will not be helpful for all causes of hair loss. It can, however, be helpful if thyroid dysfunction is a cause, as Saw Palmetto is also a thyroid tonic. It can normally be used alongside other treatments for thyroid dysfunction. 

Saw Palmetto is also an active ingredient in various lotions that are applied to the scalp to stimulate hair growth.

Formula: 3 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 1 part Oat straw, 1 part Rosemary leaves.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3–4 times daily.

Stress may often play a part in hair loss, and the addition of Oat straw is intended to combat this, because it feeds and supports the nervous system.

Rosemary is rich in calcium and will also support the nervous system. It is a fine hair restorative and will improve circulation of blood and nutrients to the head.

Sexual problems

There are times in everyone’s life when sexual desire slackens. This is nothing to worry about. The natural world moves in cycles, and peak performance gives way to rest and recuperation. The following tincture will help to promote peak health and rekindle desire.

Formula: 2 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 2 parts Siberian Ginseng root, 1 part Echinacea root, 1 part Damiana leaves.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3–4 times daily.

Saw Palmetto’s reputation as an aphrodisiac is long standing. Fortunately, it blends very well with Siberian Ginseng. This important herb has a wide number of actions: it is an aphrodisiac, stimulant, adaptogen, and tonic; it supports the immune system, and dilates the blood vessels. Echinacea helps to combat any underlying inflammation or infection that may have caused diminished sexual interest or ability in the first place. Damiana helps impotence or flagging libido because it is a hormonal tonic.

General weakness and depression

This tonic helps people overcome depression stemming from overwork, poor diet, and nervous tension. It also aids recuperation from illness or surgery. Take as a tincture or capsule or as powders added to a smoothie. This combination of herbs helps to restore vibrant health and vigour.

Formula: 2 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 1 part Siberian Ginseng root.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3–4 times daily.

Children: Consult a qualified herbalist.

In this remedy, Saw Palmetto is a nourishing tonic. It also stimulates the hormone system. Siberian Ginseng has an uplifting effect in the body both physically and mentally. It will maintain steady mental balance and give the body valuable support.

Colds, asthma, bronchitis

Taken as a warm decoction, a combination of Saw Palmetto, Echinacea, and Eucalyptus is an effective formula for colds and nasal mucus and helps to fight infection.

Formula: 2 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 2 parts Echinacea root, 1 part Eucalyptus leaves.

RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: 

Adults: 250ml (1 cup) three times daily.

Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16 years, consult a qualified herbalist.

Saw Palmetto acts as an expectorant, helping to reduce congestion. Echinacea was known to Native Americans as a ‘sacred herb’. This strengthening plant invigorates the immune system and stimulates a range of infection-fighting reactions. In addition to giving a clean, fresh taste via its essential oil content, Eucalyptus opens up the lungs and sinuses and assists infection-fighting.

Urinary infection

This tincture formula is excellent for encouraging the bladder to work efficiently. It helps flush out toxins and bacteria.

Formula: 2 parts Saw Palmetto berries, 1 part Uva Ursi leaves, 1 part Corn silk, 1 part Dandelion root, 1 part Juniper berries.

Recommended dosage:

Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 4–5 times daily during acute stage then reduce to 5 ml (1 tsp) 3 times daily for a week.

Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For under 16 years, consult a qualified herbalist.

Saw Palmetto is a key choice in this formula: it is nicknamed the ‘plant catheter’ because it has the ability to strengthen the neck of the bladder. It also increases urine flow and is an effective urinary antiseptic that works particularly well for cystitis. Uva Ursi leaves also work as a urinary antiseptic and increase urine flow. Corn silk will both soothe and heal whilst increasing urinary output. Dandelion will further help to increase urine flow whilst maintaining potassium levels. Juniper is an excellent antimicrobial, especially for the urinary system.

How Saw Palmetto Works

Saw Palmetto is composed of many beneficial substances that act upon the body's systems in ways that are not yet fully understood scientifically. Past use of Saw Palmetto suggests a wealth of future uses just waiting to be discovered.

Scientists have analysed the chemical composition of Saw Palmetto in order to understand how it achieves its therapeutic results. The berries have been shown to be composed of compounds such as volatile oil and resin, bitter compounds such as saponins, sitosterols (to include a small amount of beta-sitosterol), unidentified substances with antiandrogenic properties and mucilaginous compounds, including pectin. The largest group of chemical constituents in Saw Palmetto is the fatty acids.

To sum up Saw Palmetto's actions on the prostate, it:

  • Inhibits the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is thought to increase the numbers of prostate cells and consequently enlarge the gland. 
  • Reduces oestrogen's effects on the prostate.
  • Reduces the action of growth factors that encourage prostate tissue to enlarge.

Controlled studies

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a report in 1998 detailing controlled studies on the use of Saw Palmetto to relieve the urinary symptoms of enlarged prostate (BPH). In the review of 18 clinical studies, it was concluded that Saw Palmetto was just as effective as the standard drug, Finasteride, in relieving the symptoms of moderate BPH, with fewer side effects. In Germany and Austria, doctors prescribe Saw Palmetto as first choice when treating BPH. Men there are twice as satisfied with their treatment and report fewer sexual complaints than those taking Finasteride.

Not just a man’s herb

Saw Palmetto is useful for so many conditions and not least for women’s issues, at any age. It is particularly useful for the post-menopausal years, in effect the same time of life for which it is most useful for men. The phytosterol-rich berries are helpful for re-building (or maintaining), moisturising and plumping up dry or atrophied tissue, e.g. vaginal tissue. It aids the ovaries, bladder, vagina and breast tissue and overall skin quality. It is of particular interest to any older women with thinning urinary tissue as it both builds this up and strengthens the actual contractions of the bladder.

Research results

Although some work has been conducted into the therapeutic effects of Saw Palmetto, it is clear that much further investigation needs to take place. There has been some interesting research showing promise in anti-cancer therapy and hopefully this may stimulate further study. Considering the decades of beneficial results from using this plant, there has been a paucity of scientific enquiry into Saw Palmetto.

Glossary

Adaptogen

A herb that empowers the whole body in a non-specific way, with no unpleasant side effects.

Alopecia

Abnormal thinning and loss of hair.

Anabolic

A substance that builds body tissue.

Anaphylactic Shock

A very serious allergic reaction.

Antiandrogenic

Substance that blocks the action of male hormones.

Anti-inflammatory

A substance that eases inflammation.

Enlarged Prostate

Common term for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Expectorant

Substance that assists the expulsion of mucus from the respiratory passages.

Frigidity

Lack of sexual desire, especially on the part of a woman.

Hirsutism

Abnormal hair growth.

Impotence

The inability of a male to obtain a penile erection and sustain sexual intercourse.

Infusion

A herbal tea used for medicinal purposes. It may be drunk hot or cold.

Lotion

A medicinal solution for external use, usually with an antiseptic, cooling, and soothing effect.

Nocturia

Desire to pass urine during the night.

Non-malignant

Abnormal cell growth that is not life-threatening.

Nutritive

A substance that provides nourishment (and may also stimulate metabolic processes).

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Development of multiple fluid-filled growths in the ovary.

Prostatitis

Inflammation of the prostate gland.

Stimulant

A substance that promotes increased activity in a function or system of the body.

Tincture

Plant medicine prepared by soaking herbs in alcohol and water.

Tisane

A herbal infusion or tea.

Tonic

A health promoting substance that induces feelings of vigour.

Topical

Herbs or preparations that are applied to the surface of the body, as opposed to being taken internally.


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