Green discusses the issue of “male herbs” in The Male Herbal and explains that herbs that are deemed “male herbs” are often good for women (and vice versa).(2; pages 77-78) Bringing up how saw palmetto is often referred to as a male herb he writes:
The part of the plant that is used is the ripe berry of this Southeastern USA and Southern California palm tree. These palm berries are easily acquired and are best used when only partially dried or as a tincture of the partially dried berries. Saw Palmetto berries, when used regularly, directly influence the entire male reproductive apparatus, but especially the prostate gland. Saw Palmetto berry extracts have been shown to prevent the conversion of testosterone to dihydritestosteron (DHT) in the prostate gland and also increase the breakdown and excretion of DHT… Male organ symptoms that indicate this herb’s use are: enlarged prostate with throbbing, aching, dull pain (a pain which often feels like it might be originating in the rectal area); discharge of prostatic fluid; discharge of mucus or yellowish, watery fluid, accompanied with weakened sexual power; also for symptoms of testicle infection (orchitits) when associated with an enlarged prostate. Continued use of Saw Palmetto greatly benefits women who manifest ovarian enlargement, with tenderness and dull aching pains, weakened sexual activity, and small undeveloped mammary glands. Quoting from the work of Finley Ellingwood, M.D., American Materia Medica Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, this herb “may be given with confidence in wasting of the testes in the early stages. It relieves irritation of the bladder, correcting the irritable character of the urine, increases the muscular power of the patient to expel the urine and produces a sense of relief, that is in every way gratifying and satisfactory. In the treatment of impotence in young men who have been excessive in their habits it can be relied upon with positiveness. It will increase sexual power in those newly married who, having been anxious concerning their sexual strength or ability, have become suddenly almost entirely impotent after marriage.” Take the Saw Palmetto extract in doses of from 20 to 30 drops 3 to 4 times a day, combined with nerviness such as Scullcap and Valerian to help relieve any anxiety impotence…
In addition to Saw Palmetto’s genitor-urinary corrective qualities, it acts to relieve irritability of the entire nervous system by stimulating the nutrition of the nerve centers. It soothes local irritation of the urinary system, stimulates digestion, and encourages assimilation. If you decide to use this herb and set out to purchase it, don’t be distracted by herbal high-technology marketing. Cherish your self-sufficiency. Saw Palmetto is very effective taken as a simple alcohol/water extract. It does not require high tech methods of preparation or extraction like freeze drying and liposterolic processing to unlock and release its actions. Simple plant extracts of this Palm berry have nourished and healed humans for centuries. (2; pages 78-80)
I once heard David Winston mention the “high tech” extraction of Saw Palmetto. He said that someone told him that their extraction produced sterols in such amounts that a person would have to eat some impossibly absurd number of fruits to match the levels. David sarcastically mentioned the coincidence of this super-extract being used for the same reasons that the old fashioned extract was, since the old extract method was ineffective. David considers Saw Palmetto (in the old fashioned form 40-60 drops three times per day) “indicated in cases of benign prostatic hyperplasia and cystitis. It is a mild adaptogen and is especially useful for older, depleted people. It strengthens the kidney, lung and reproductive qi. Saw Palmetto is also used as a urinary antiseptic, and expectorant, and in cases of spermatorrhea, low sperm motility and infertility.”(4)
Both Winston and Tierra refer in the quotations above to Saw Palmetto’s relation to the Kidney energy, as it is understood in Chinese medicine. Winston also mentioned reproductive qi, which is under the umbrella of Kidney Qi in Chinese medicine. Winston’s reference to use for older, depleted people also ties in with the Kidney Qi through the Chinese concept of Jing, or essence.
Essence, in its widest sense, is anything essential to the maintenance of life. Elementary Questions (su wen, jin gui zhen yan lun) states: “Essence is the basis of the body.” In this broad sense, it includes blood, qi, and the fluids. Distinction is made between acquired essence, congenital essence, and reproductive essence. In addition, there is essential qi.
Acquired essence is what is essential to maintaining life and is absorbed by the body after birth. The term “acquired essence” is virtually synonymous with the “essence of grain and water,” i.e., the nutrients that are absorbed by the stomach and spleen…
Essence in a narrow sense is the essence stored by the kidney. This essence controls birth, growth, aging, and death. One form of the essence stored by the kidney is reproductive essence, which is what the male and female combine to produce offspring. In the new-born child, the essence stored by the kidney is congenital essence received from the parents. From birth, this essence is gradually strengthened by acquired essence. As it becomes stronger, the body grows to full stature and reproductive maturity. After the prime of life, this essence gradually wanes and the gradual decay of body begins. (5; pages 23-24)
So, while modern science attempts to find “active constituents” (in this case Saw Palmetto’s virtues are believe to be largely due to fatty acids and sterols(1)), we find an explanation in ancient Chinese theory. The German Commission E has approves the use of Saw Palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), as does France, who began studying the chemical composition of Saw Palmetto in the 1960s.(1) The German Government also approve two other fatty acid and sterol containing herbs for BPH pumkin seeds, Cucurbita pepo, (1; pages 322-325) and stinging nettle root, Urtica dioica, (1; pages 372-374). All three of these herbs have traditions of use for both urinary related issues, and as sources of nutrition.(1) I do not intend to discuss pumpkin and nettle in detail, but it is worth mentioning that the native people of Florida depended on Saw Palmetto as a staple food as well as a medicine and a source of material (leaf stems) for baskets.(1)
Furthermore, the sweet flavor (Tierra (3) has already been cited describing Saw Palmetto’s flavor and energy as pungent, sweet, and warm) is associated with nourishment and tonic action.(3; page 44) The sweet, nourishing quality of Saw Palmetto helps explain its effect on the reproductive system. BPH, for example, is a common condition in later life (affecting approximately 50-60% of men between the ages of 40 and 59 years)(2; page 104) and, as we already covered above, Jing (essence) is related to the aging process and to the reproductive system.
We have determined that in general Saw Palmetto has a nourishing effect on the whole body and especially affects the Kidney essence. We have also covered many of the specific instances when Saw Palmetto is indicated. We must still explore more specific indications for Saw Palmetto. Is Saw Palmetto always good for BPH? How do we know when to use it or when to use nettle root, or some other herb, or some combination of herbs? How do we know when to use it for other health issues? Tierra lists wasting diseases and underweight conditions (along with prostate, urinary tract infections, impotence and frigidity) for the uses of Saw Palmetto.(3) There are so many nourishing, building herbs and foods available to us today. No longer are we primarily dependent on local abundance for our nourishment and medicines- we have grocery stores and herb shops. How do we know what to use?
In macrobiotic diagnosis the area under the chin/jaw reflect the condition of the prostate in men. Besides that this area often has irregular appearances in folks with reproductive system imbalances, it is quite obvious that the skin under the chin droops with age just as prostate problems begin with the passing of years.
King’s American Dispensatory indicated Saw Palmetto’s specific uses as follows: “Relaxation of parts, with copius 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” (Felter and Llyod, 1985). The dosage range was wide, from 1 to 60 drops, apparently based on individual diagnosis. The Eclectics described Saw Palmetto as the “old man’s friend,” as a “remedy for prostatic irritation and relaxation of tissue (rather) than for a hypertrophied prostate”.(3)
BIBLIOGRAPHY (the page numbers listed refer to the main monographs – information cited otherwise is followed by the page number in the text)
1 Mark Blumenthal Herbal Medicine pages 335-340
2 James Green The Male Herbal pages 239-240
3 Michael Tierra The Way of Herbs pages 191-192
4 David Winston Herbal Therapeutics page 95
5 Nigel Wiseman and Andrew Ellis Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine