The medicinal use of Saw Palmetto dates back to the indigenous population of Central and South America. These people claimed that the fruit of the Saw Palmetto had diuretic, fortifying and calming properties. In the southern states of the USA, sabal fruit was used as a source of nutrition. It was also used to help rebuild a patient's strength during draining illnesses, since the consumption of the ripe, oily fruit stimulates the digestion which in turn leads to weight gain and an increase in strength. This effect was also observed among wild animals in Florida, which lost weight as a result of the lack of available foodstuffs during the hot summer months and gained weight and strength following the consumption of the ripe Saw Palmetto fruit during the autumn. Sweetened oil from the seeds of the fruit was used as a cure for sleeplessness, bad coughs and bronchitis. Due to its stimulating effect on the mucous membrane of the genital tract, the fruit also provided men and women with relief from the symptoms of sub-acute gonorrhoea and sub-acute or chronic cystitis. Also in the southern US states, sabal fruit was combined with the root of Osmorhiza occidentalis (a species of sweet anise) to produce an aphrodisiac.
The old botanical name of sabal was the more commonly used South American name for the plant. The Latin word, serrulata means "little saw" and refers to the sharp-edged leaves. The latter-day name of Serenoa pays homage to the well-known American botanist, Sereno Watson. The species name of repens means "creeping".
The dwarf palm grows from a creeping rhizome. Its leafstalks are between 1 and 1.5 metres in length and have a jagged edge from which the sharply-edged leaves fan out in segments numbering between 18 and 24 leaves. From the axils grow panicled, branching inflorescences which are short and hairy and later form individual deep purple to black coloured berries about the size of olives. These berries are first sweet and then extremely tart tasting.
Saw Palmetto can be found in coastal areas of the southern states of North America (such as North Carolina and Florida) and in Central America.
A.Vogel/Bioforce produces an alcohol extract from the dried ripe fruits of Serenoa repens from organically controlled crops. This extract is carefully thickened for production in capsule form.
At one time, extract of sabal was used to flavour brandy. In agriculture these fruits are used as feed for game.