Like most men I was not aware of my prostate gland 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 raising a family. I’ve learned since that the prostate is a male reproductive gland that creates ingredients for semen, nourishes and protects sperm, and, as a muscular gland, helps expel semen during ejaculation—all important functions.
My lack of awareness began to change when I reached 40 and my doctor included the DRE into my yearly checkup. If you’re not familiar with the DRE (digital rectal examination), you’re likely still a young man or a woman who has other things to worry about. Like most guys, I eventually got used to the DRE to ensure that I didn’t have prostate cancer, but I soon learned that I had “a slightly enlarged prostate.”
My doctor said this was common in men as we age and probably accounted for my increased urinary frequency and my waking up more often at night needing to pee. The doctor told me there were some drugs I could take, but I might want to try the herb, Saw Palmetto. I generally don’t like to take any medications, herbal or otherwise, but getting a good night’s sleep was important to me, I decided to learn what I could about Saw Palmetto.
I soon became fascinated with the Saw Palmetto story. Saw Palmetto is type of palm tree, also known as a dwarf palm, that is native to the southeast United States which is the only place in the world it grows today. It is sometimes referred to as a Florida treasure which is where the majority grows. Saw Palmetto’s scientific name, Serenoa Repens, is named for Harvard botanist Sereno Watson (1826-1892). A typical Saw Palmetto tree grows to 2 to 4 feet high (but can reach 10 feet) with fan-shaped serrated leaves. Saw Palmetto grows exclusively in the wild and is described as an ancient plant that can normally be anywhere from 500 to 700 years old. Some plants are estimated to be thousands of years old.
Native peoples have been well acquainted with Saw Palmetto. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Guide,
“Saw Palmetto featured prominently in the material cultures of some Southeastern tribes, including the Tequesta, Creek, Miccosukee, and Seminoles. During the late summer and fall, the Saw Palmetto tree produces berries which were used as a food source and medicinal solution by Native Americans dating back centuries, if not thousands of years. Unripe berries look 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 who were shipwrecked in 1696 and were provided berries as food by the natives. Botanist and explorer, John Bartram, wrote about Saw Palmetto during his explorations of Florida.
To better understand the benefits of Saw Palmetto I sought out a man I had met at a conference on men’s health. James Green is a master herbalist and when I first 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 began his talk with a topic of interest to everyone present—the penis.
He introduced the topic with flair. “That notorious organ that no one trusts,” his sonorous voice boomed in the lecture hall. “TV’s perennially censored flesh; Hollywood’s most unphotogenic performer; the surgeon’s first male target; one of a male’s most vulnerable possessions; Phallus officinialis; (In some circles, Phallus vulgaris); shaker and mover; the great stimulator of whispers, wonder and lengthy guesses.”
When I visited Green at his extensive herb garden and herbal clinic, he talked about the value of herbs for everyone, particularly men. “Herbal medicine is ‘people’s medicine,” he told me. “It is the oldest branch of planetary medicine, suggesting itself to all animals instinctively.” He went on to talk about the benefits of Saw Palmetto. “It’s often referred to as a ‘male herb,’ though it can be equally appropriate for promoting female health.”
He explained that Saw Palmetto was highly valued Native American Indian herbal science and later used extensively by Eclectic physicians. He explained that the Eclectics were a prominent school of medical doctors who used primarily herbs and other natural remedies from 1880 to 1930. He went on to tell me about the remarkable nutritive and health properties of Saw Palmetto.
“The part of the plant that is used is the ripe berry. Saw Palmetto berries, when used regularly, directly influence the entire male reproductive apparatus, but especially the prostate gland.”
“Although the focus for using Saw Palmetto has been on the prostate, I believe there are other benefits at well,” he told me. “In addition to Saw Palmetto’s genito-urinary corrective qualities, it also acts to relieve irritability of the entire nervous system by stimulating the nutrition of the nerve centers.”
When I wrote the book, Male Menopause, I discussed the unique changes that men over 40 needed to address and how natural herbal preparations like Saw Palmetto berry oil extract could be helpful. “A man’s change of life is not a loss of his manhood, his sex appeal, or his maleness,” James Green told me. “Through this normal transition, a man’s strength becomes more supportive of life in general. While this change of life is not as hormonally driven as it is for females, it can call for similar herbs to facilitate rebalance during these times of transition.”
I asked Green why men seem to be slower to recognize the benefits of like Saw Palmetto berries. His response was enlightening.
“Possibly the male, in general, requires and prefers medicine that is suitable for his more swashbuckling attitude about life. He requires medicine that is heroic in nature, not one that is nutritional. He seems a medicine that is designed to be efficient in acute crises, not necessarily one that is preventive in nature.”
But the times are changing and more and more men are learning about natural remedies and the health benefits of the Saw Palmetto. All of the science tells us that the benefits of Saw Palmetto lie in the oil of mature Saw Palmetto berries. Welcome to the future of men’s health. Let me know what you think. I’m always interested in your feedback and questions. You can read other articles about health and well-being here.
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