In search of the wild saw palmetto berry.
A planned ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway morphed into a southern detour after an invitation to follow the backstory of the elusive saw palmetto berry — a ride that began and ended in the northern Florida wilderness.
I am a Canadian university urologist who treats some men with enlarged prostate glands and associated urinary symptoms with a natural extract of the saw palmetto berry, particularly if they are not interested in my standard practice of using prescribed pharmaceuticals or surgery. As a clinical researcher, I jumped at the chance to delve more into the saw palmetto berry, since I’m interested in natural product supplements that may boost men’s health. The saw palmetto berry, one such herbal remedy touted for prostate, urinary and sexual problems, only grows uncultivated in the wilds of Florida and south Georgia.
I was riding my trusty 2015 V-Strom 650XT through the sand pine scrub forest of the Ocala National Forest in search of Mike and his saw palmetto picking crew, who I was to meet in a privately owned wilderness area adjacent to the park. It was mid-September and I was too late by just a day. The saw palmetto berries had ripened and were all picked, and the crew — which works quickly from south Florida, north to the Georgia border and beyond chasing the ripening berries — had moved just west of the Jacksonville area.
Unfortunately, I raced straight through this wonderful patch of Florida, zipping past the inviting side trails penetrating the forest, but vowed to return to the National Forest in several days to ride it the way it should be ridden.
Problems struck again, as an illegal picking group with no landowner’s permission or permits had poached the Jacksonville area, picking the site clean. Law enforcement had been called, illegal migrant workers dispersed into the darkness, inconsequentially small fines were administered and wrists slapped. I quickly learned that the picking of saw palmetto in this poorly regulated industry is like the wild west. I followed Mike and his pickers, weaving my bike up some sandy forest trails (none shown on maps or gps) to a tract of privately managed timber land just south of the Georgia border.
The working crew was amused at the interest shown by this unusually dressed alien arriving at their picking site on a motorcycle. I observed first hand the challenges faced by these diligent workers as they picked the ripe berries, avoiding the sharp steak knife-like leaf edges, snakes, and insects in…