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Common Name: Saw Palmetto
Serenoa repens is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to 3.00 metres tall.
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials.
South-eastern N. America - South Carolina to Florida, west to Arkansas.
Low pine woods, savannahs and thickets[
], where it often forms substantial thickets[
]. Also found on coastal sand dunes[
Requires a warm sunny position in a moist but well-drained soil[
]. Plants can succeed in quite dry soils so long as their roots can penetrate to underground water[
]. Growing mainly in coastal areas in its native range, this species is likely to be very tolerant of maritime exposure, though not of cold winds[
This species is one of the hardiest of palms and succeeds outdoors in warm temperate zones[
]. It is only likely to be marginally hardy, even in the mildest areas of Britain, and probably tolerates temperatures down to between -5 and -10°c[
Palms usually have deep penetrating root systems and generally establish best when planted out at a young stage. However, older plants are substantially more cold tolerant than juvenile plants[
]. In areas at the limit of their cold tolerance, therefore, it is prudent to grow the plants in containers for some years, giving them winter protection, and only planting them into their permanent positions when sheer size dictates[
]. Palms can also be transplanted even when very large. Although the thick fleshy roots are easily damaged and/or desiccated, new roots are generally freely produced. It is important to stake the plant very firmly to prevent rock, and also to give it plenty of water until re-established - removing many of the leaves can also help[
Plants usually sucker freely in the wild and form dense thickets[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. A sweet flavour but with a soapy taste and a strong vanilla-like aroma[
]. Regular consumption of the fruit is supposed to be very beneficial to the health, improving the digestion and helping to increase weight and strength[
Seed - raw or cooked[
Saw palmetto berries are a tonic herb that is used in the treatment of debility, urinary tract problems and for reducing enlarged prostate glands[
The partially dried ripe fruit is aphrodisiac, urinary antiseptic, diuretic, expectorant, sedative and tonic[
]. It is taken internally in the treatment of impotence, debility in elderly men, prostate enlargement and inflammation, bronchial complaints associated with coldness, and wasting diseases[
]. Saw palmetto is one of the few Western herbs that are considered to be anabolic (strengthening and building body tissue and encouraging weight gain)[
]. The fruit pulp, or a tincture, is given to those suffering from wasting disease, general debility and failure to thrive[
]. The fruit also has a beneficial effect on the urinary system, helping to reduce the size of an enlarged prostate gland and strengthening the neck of the bladder[
]. The fruit has a probable oestrogenic action, it is prescribed in the treatment of impotence, reduced or absent sex drive and testicular atrophy in men and to stimulate breast enlargement in women[
]. The fruit is also used in the treatment of colds, coughs, irritated mucous membranes, asthma etc[
A suppository of the powdered fruits, in cocoa butter, has been used as a uterine and vaginal tonic[
The leaf stems have been used in making baskets[
The plant has been used to make brushes and cordage[
The seed is best sown in a warm greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. It usually germinates freely. Stored seed is more difficult to germinate, it should be pre-soaked for 24 hours in warm water before sowing in a warm greenhouse. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
Although the plant forms suckers, these do not usually transplant well and so seed is the only sure method of propagation[