Saw palmetto is a small palm, growing to a maximum height of around 7–10 ft. Its trunk is sprawling, and it grows in clumps or dense thickets in sandy coastal lands or as undergrowth in pine woods or hardwood hammocks.
Saw palmetto is a fan palm and the teeth or spines are easily capable of breaking the skin. The leaves are similar to those of the sabal palm, and the flowers are yellowish-white. The fruit is a large reddish-black drupe and is an important food source for wildlife and, historically, for humans.
The fruits of the saw palmetto are highly enriched with fatty acids and phytosterols, and extracts of the fruits have been the subject of intensive research for the symptomatic treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The extract has been promoted as useful for people with prostate cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, “available scientific studies do not support claims that saw palmetto can prevent or treat prostate cancer in humans.”