A harvester reaches into a saw palmetto plant to pick its medicinal berries.
Saw palmetto sales contribute about $25 million a year to Florida’s economy, says Ted Helms of the state agriculture department’s marketing division. Demand was so high during the 1998 season that saw palmetto “bandits” appeared on the scene, illegally scavenging berries from secluded areas in Florida state parks, according to an Associated Press report.
Before scientists turned their microscopes to saw palmetto, Native Americans used the berries as a general tonic and to treat impotence. In 1892, a report in The New Idea stated that saw palmetto acts as a “vitalizer” for reproductive organs, including the ovaries and prostate.
Sharp spines edge the leaves of this low-growing palm, giving it the common name “saw palmetto.”