Botanical Source.—This southern palm has a creeping and branching stem, attaining a length of from 6 to 10 feet. The leaves, which are from 2 to 4 feet high, have a circular, fan-shaped outline, are bright-green, and shorter than the slender, somewhat spiny-edged, plano-convex petiole. They have from 15 to 30 divisions, which are erect and slightly cleft at the apices, and are without the thready filaments in the sinuses. The plant bears a densely woolly spadix, shorter than the leaves. The petals are almost united, the style slender, and the fruit is an ovoid-oblong, sweetish drupe.
History and Description.—This well-known palm is plentiful along the Atlantic shores, from Florida to South Carolina, where it forms the "palmetto scrub" of the coast. Parts of the plant have been employed in various economic ways, such as the thatching of huts, making of mattresses, straw hats, and paper. The fruit, though sweet and edible, is not regarded as particularly palatable. It is the medicinal part. Animals show a partiality for it, and are said to become fat and sleek when feeding upon the berries. (For an extended description, see monograph on Saw Palmetto, by the late Dr. Edwin M. Hale, of Chicago.) The dried fruit is a 1-seeded, blackish-brown drupe, of an ovoid-oblong form, from 1/2 to 1 inch long, and about 1/4 to 1/2 inch broad. The exterior has a few wrinkles, with rather large, smooth, flat areas. A single panicle may yield from 6 to 8 pounds of the berries.
Chemical Composition.—According to the researches of P. L. Sherman and C. H. Briggs (Pharm. Archives, June, 1899), the pulp of the fruit yields, by pressure, 1.5 per cent of an aromatic oil (Saw palmetto oil), of a characteristic fruity odor. Fresh saw palmetto berries mixed with water and distilled by us, yielded a pungent, greenish oil. A greenish oil separates from the fluid extract of the fresh berries. Both oils have the characteristic cheesy odor of the fresh berries. This reminds us of oenanthic ether. The nuts of the fruit amount to 17.5 per cent, and contain about 12 per cent of a fatty oil (oil of nuts), which is chemically different from that derived from the pulp. Saw palmetto oil is brownish-yellow to dark-red, of acid reaction, and slightly volatile with steam. It can be distilled in a vacuum almost entirely without decomposition. It is soluble in alcohol, ether, chloroform, and benzene, insoluble in water and acids, partly soluble in diluted aqueous potash. The oil consisted of about 63 per cent of free acids (caproic acid, C6H12O2; very little caprylic, C8H16O2; some capric, C10H20O2; much lauric, C12H24O2; and palmitic acids, C16H32O2; and some oleic acid, C18H34O2), and 37 per cent of ethyl- but no glyceryl-esters of these acids. The oil of the nuts is a thick liquid of a greenish color, only slightly soluble in alcohol, insoluble in water, soluble in benzene, chloroform, and ether. The specimen examined contained only 2.3 per cent of free acids, the rest were glycerides of caprylic, capric, lauric, palmitic, stearic, and oleic acids. The fruit contains large amounts of sugar, but neither a glucosid nor an alkaloid.
Ɣ Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Saw palmetto appears, from clinical reports, to be a nutritive tonic. It is also an expectorant, and controls irritation of mucous tissues. It has proved useful in irritative cough, chronic bronchial coughs, whooping-cough, laryngitis, acute and chronic, acute catarrh, asthma, tubercular laryngitis, and in the cough of phthisis pulmonalis. Upon the digestive organs it acts kindly, improving the appetite, digestion, and assimilation. However, its most pronounced effects appear to be those exerted upon the urino-genital tracts of both male and female, and upon all the organs concerned in reproduction. It is said to enlarge wasted organs, as the breasts, ovaries, and testicles, while the paradoxical claim is also made that it reduces hypertrophy of the prostate. Possibly this may be explained by claiming that it tends toward the production of a normal condition, reducing parts when unhealthily enlarged, and increasing them when atrophied. At any rate, it has been lauded as the "old man's friend," giving relief from the many annoyances commonly attributed to enlarged prostate. May its results not be due to its control over urethral irritation, and thereby reducing swollen conditions not in reality amounting to hypertrophy? Besides this, it increases the tonus of the bladder, allowing a better contraction and more perfect expulsion of the contents of that viscus. Thus it overcomes the tenesmic pain so dreaded by the sufferer. We would rather regard it a remedy for prostatic irritation and relaxation of tissue than for a hypertrophied prostate. It is said to relieve aching, dull, throbbing pain in the prostatic portion of the urethra, with mucoid or prostatic discharge. It relieves the irritation following a badly-treated gonorrhoea. Orchitis, ovaritis, orchialgia, ovaralgia, and epidymitis have been asserted cured with it. It is reputed to restore sexual activity after exhaustive excesses, and even in the feeble woman, strengthens the sexual appetite. Long-continued use of it is said to slowly and surely cause the mammae to enlarge. Its reputed power to reduce uterine hypertrophy is probably due to its power over relaxed tissues, the organ being not in reality hypertrophied, but large, flabby, and actively leucorrhoeal. The remedy needs a more careful and extended study. The dose of the fluid extract is from 1 to 60 drops; of specific saw palmetto, 1 to 60 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Relaxation of parts, with copious catarrhal discharges; lack of development, or wasting away of testicles, ovaries, or mammae; prostatic irritation, with painful micturition, and dribbling of urine, particularly in the aged; tenderness of the glands, and other parts concerned in reproduction.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.