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HerbalGram Publishes Seminal Article on Saw Palmetto

Article extensively covers the human history of a major native American medicinal plant

AUSTIN, Texas (December 15, 2021) — The American Botanical Council (ABC) recently published an extensive review of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) in the winter issue (#132) of HerbalGram, ABC’s quarterly, peer-reviewed magazine.1 The cover story, by noted herbal expert, author, and photographer Steven Foster, explores the plant’s history of use, trade, conservation concerns, ecology, and biology, among other topics.Changing social and economic dynamics, coupled with complex human/saw palmetto interactions, past and present, are portrayed in this wide-ranging review. It also includes revealing new perspectives, particularly on historical food uses and medicinal uses, drawn together in one publication for the first time. The article, titled “The Historical Interplay of Plant Biology, Trade, and Human Interactions with Saw Palmetto,” spans 32 pages in HerbalGram, making it the longest feature ever published in the magazine’s 39-year history.“Saw palmetto is one of the most important native American medicinal plants in the United States and international herb trade,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and editor-in-chief of HerbalGram. “This fascinating and detailed article covers almost every aspect of saw palmetto, except for much of the scientific and human clinical research. This article does not deal with the many clinical trials and at least 10 meta-analyses, as they have appeared in numerous other peer-reviewed publications. Steven Foster’s information-rich article covers other ground, and it includes information never before published elsewhere. It is the seminal article which most future saw palmetto articles should cite. ABC salutes our good friend Steven for his massive undertaking and unprecedented contribution to the botanical literature.”Saw palmetto is the most abundant palm in North America but occurs only in a limited range in the southeastern United States, sprawling across tens-of-thousands of acres in Florida and adjacent Georgia.Extracts of the berries are commonly used in dietary supplement products in the United States and phytomedicines in Europe and elsewhere, indicated for supporting prostate health and the prevention and treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The berries are among the best-selling dietary supplement ingredients in the United States, ranking in the top 13 herbal dietary supplement products in both mainstream and natural retail channels.The entire supply is wild-harvested, reaching nearly seven million pounds of dried berries annually, making it North America’s highest volume wild-harvested herbal ingredient, according to Foster. As he explains in the article, the long-term effects of climate change, rising sea levels, and various human activities leading to habitat loss, may impact the long-term sustainability of harvest.According to Foster: “My decades-long intrigue with saw palmetto was inspired and encouraged by my late friend Marlin Huffman (1938–2002) of Plantation Botanicals, Inc., Felda, Florida to whom I dedicate the article. As a saw palmetto entrepreneur, in the 1990s he did more than almost anyone else to stimulate research on the plant and its biology.”The feature also explores the rich history of saw palmetto. For thousands of years indigenous peoples in the Southeast consumed the berries as staple foods and the shrubby palm served a myriad of material uses. The first commercial saw palmetto products introduced into pharmacies in Savannah, Georgia, in 1879 included the berry oil for food and medicinal use. By the 1890s most major drug houses offered saw palmetto formulations. It enjoyed official status in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) from 1905 to 1926 and the National Formulary (NF) from 1926 to 1950. Today, saw palmetto and its derivative products are included in dietary supplement monographs in USP-NF 2021.Foster’s article has 110 references, including original documents and several obscure, difficult-to-find sources. It also features 27 of Foster’s photographs, including four of saw palmetto products and an advertisement from the 18th and 19th centuries, from Foster’s personal collection of historical herbal medicinal products and related ephemera.Reference

  1. Foster S. The Historical Interplay of Plant Biology, Trade, and Human Interactions with Saw Palmetto. HerbalGram 2021;132:36-67. Available at: Accessed December 14, 2021.