Saw palmetto, or Serenoa repens, is a forest plant. It grows wild in many varied habitats, including southeastern pine forests between Louisiana and Florida in the south and South Carolina in the north, where it serves as primary ground cover. The saw palmetto berry is the fruit of the plant while saw palmetto extract is manufactured from the berry. The extract is marketed for medicinal purposes.
The saw palmetto plant resembles fan palms, reaching a height of 2 to 9 feet. Its leaves grow in a spiral around the plant's stem which either remains underground or parallel to the ground. The leaves on the stem are saw toothed; that forms the basis for the plant's name. Dangers involved in the harvest of the wild berries include its sharp leaves and rattlesnakes that live and hide under its cover.
The fruit of the saw palmetto is ovoid, or egg shaped, measuring approximately 1/2 inch wide. The berry is drupe-like, referring to it being a fleshy fruit with a single seed and hard inner layer. Saw palmettos produce white flowers. The berries grow on branched clusters and then ripen from green to black in a cluster. The berries are composed of fatty acids, plant sterols, flavonoids and high molecular weight polysaccharides, or sugars, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Berries picked in the wild are dried to be used for medicinal purposes.
The berries can be purchased in the form of powdered capsules, tablets, liquid tinctures or liposterolic extracts. Examine the labels and determine that the extract or product is 85 to 95 per cent fatty acids and sterols. Proper dosage for extract capsules is 160 mg twice a day according to the Maryland Medical Center.
The saw palmetto berry is dried and sold as a medicinal product. The berries also produce the saw palmetto extract. According to ConsumersLab, some extracts contain additional products like pumpkin seed oil, zinc, gelatin and glycerine, while dried berries represent solely the saw palmetto fruit.
Saw palmetto, in its extract form, is used primarily for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH -- enlargement of the prostate gland in men. According to Maryland Medical Center, studies show that saw palmetto is effective in treating symptoms such as frequent urination, especially at night. Other studies show it might shrink the prostate gland, while another study showed it had no value.