Saw palmetto (Serona repens) is a common herbal remedy for prostate enlargement. Though it is now used around the world, don't be surprised if you have some growing in your backyard -- it is a native to Florida!
Like other palms (such as the sabal palm, Florida's state tree), saw palmetto plants have wide, fan-like leaves. However, instead of growing tall, they most often grow in low, dense thickets.
The therapeutic part of the saw palmetto plant is its berries. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), this fruit was used medicinally by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Saw palmetto is used for a variety of conditions, including hair loss, hormone imbalances, and bladder problems. However, saw palmetto is best known for its effects on prostate enlargement (known medically as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH). BPH is often marked by frequent urination, difficulty starting a stream of urine, and painful urination.
Research results supporting the effectiveness of saw palmetto for prostate enlargement are mixed. The NCCAM states that, although several small studies suggest its effectiveness, a large study in 2006 saw no marked improvement in men with BPH who took it daily for a year.
"Saw palmetto has a fatty, pungeant flavor that is hard to swallow and hard to disguise," wrote Rosemary Gladstar in "Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal." Fortunately, a variety of saw palmetto extracts and preparations exist, including more palatable capsules. Gladstar advises buying only fresh capsules of good quality, because "the fats in saw palmetto quickly turn rancid." Instead, consider buying liquid extracts, which have a longer shelf life. Most liquid extracts are prepared with an alcohol base; these are known as tinctures. However, alcohol-free extracts made with naturally sweet vegetable glycerin are also available.
If you think you may have prostate enlargement or another bladder problem, seek medical attention and advice before starting treatment with saw palmetto or any other self treatment.