Serenoa opens with fruit. Photo by Ted Bodner
Like most men, I wasn’t aware of my prostate as a young man. I had a vague idea that all men had one, but little awareness of its purpose. I was busy making a living and starting a family. I have since learned that the prostate is a male reproductive gland that makes ingredients for sperm, nourishes and protects sperm, and acts as a muscle gland to help expel sperm during ejaculation – all important functions.
My lack of awareness began to change when I was 40 and my doctor included the DRE in my annual checkup. If you are not familiar with the DRE (digital rectal exam), you are likely still a young man or woman with other things to worry about. Like most people, I eventually got used to the DRE to make sure I didn’t have prostate cancer, but I soon learned that I had “a slightly enlarged prostate.”
My doctor said this is common in men as they age and is likely responsible for my increased urinary frequency and waking up at night when I have to pee. The doctor told me I could take some medication, but I might want to try the saw palmetto herb. I generally don’t take herbal or other medications, but I was concerned about getting a good night’s sleep. I decided to learn what I could know about Saw Palmetto.
I was soon fascinated by the story of Saw Palmetto. Saw palmetto is a species of palm, also known as the dwarf palm, that is native to the southeastern United States and is the only place in the world where it grows today. It is sometimes referred to as the Florida treasure where the majority grows. Saw Palmetto’s scientific name, Serenoa Repens, is named after the Harvard botanist Sereno Watson (1826-1892). A typical saw palmetto tree grows 2 to 4 feet tall (but can reach 10 feet) with fan-shaped serrated leaves. Saw palmetto only grows in the wild and is described as an ancient plant that can typically be anywhere from 500 to 700 years old. Some plants are estimated to be thousands of years old.
Native people are well acquainted with saw palmetto. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant guide
“Saw Palmetto played an important role in the material cultures of several southeastern tribes, including Tequesta, Creek, Miccosukee, and Seminoles. In late summer and fall, the saw palmetto tree produces berries that have been used as a food source and medicinal solution by Native Americans for centuries if not thousands of years. Unripe berries are similar to green olives, and as they grow and ripen, their color changes from green to yellow, orange, and finally purple. “
The first published reference of saw palmetto berries is based on stories of Quakers shipwrecked in 1696 and given berries for food by the natives. Botanist and explorer John Bartram wrote about Saw Palmetto while exploring Florida.
To better understand the benefits of saw palmetto, I went to see a man I met at a conference on men’s health. James Green is a master in herbalism and when I met him he was co-director and teacher at the California School of Herbal Studies and had just written the book The Male Herbal: Health Care for Men & Boys. His topic at the conference was immediately intriguing: “Why can’t I call a Guy Necologist?” He started his conversation on a subject that was of interest to everyone present – the penis.
He introduced the subject with flair. “This notorious organ that nobody trusts,” boomed his sonorous voice in the lecture hall. “The constantly censored meat of television; Hollywood’s most unphotogenic actor; the surgeon’s first male target; one of a man’s most vulnerable possessions; Phallus officinialis; (In some circles, phallus vulgaris); Shaker and movers; the great stimulator of whispers, amazement and long guesswork. ”
When I visited Green in his sprawling herb garden and herbal clinic, he spoke about the value of herbs for everyone, especially men. “Herbal medicine is ‘folk medicine,'” he told me. “It is the oldest branch of planetary medicine and instinctively offers itself to all animals.” He went on to talk about the benefits of Saw Palmetto. “It’s often referred to as a ‘male herb,’ although it can also be useful for promoting female health.”
He stated that saw palmetto was a highly valued Native American herbal science and was later used extensively by eclectic doctors. He stated that the Eclectics were an important school of physicians who mainly used herbs and other natural remedies from 1880 to 1930. He told me about the remarkable nutritious and health properties of Saw Palmetto.
“The part of the plant that is used is the ripe berry. When used regularly, saw palmetto berries directly affect the entire male reproductive system, but especially the prostate. ”
“While the focus of using Saw Palmetto was on the prostate, I believe there are other benefits, too,” he told me. “In addition to providing the urogenital corrective properties of Saw Palmetto, it also relieves irritability of the entire nervous system by stimulating nerve center nutrition.”
As I wrote the book Male Menopause, I discussed the unique changes men over 40 had to make and how natural herbal supplements like saw palmetto berry oil extract could help. “Changing a man’s life is not about losing his manhood, sex appeal, or manhood,” James Green told me. “Through this normal transition, a man’s strength supports life in general more. While this life change is not as hormonal as it is in women, it may require similar herbs to help balance these transitional periods. “
I asked Green why men seem slower to see the benefits of saw palmetto berries. His answer was instructive.
“The man in general may need and prefer medication that is appropriate for his more daring outlook on life. He needs drugs that are heroic, and not nutritional. It appears to be a drug that is effective in acute crises and not necessarily preventive. “
But times are changing, and more men are learning about natural remedies and the health benefits of saw palmetto. All science tells us that the benefits of saw palmetto lie in the oil of ripe saw palmetto berries. Welcome to the future of men’s health. Let me know what you think. I am always interested in your feedback and questions. You can find more articles on health and wellbeing here.
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