Saw Palmetto is produced for commercial use in south-eastern America and is mainly harvested between August and the end of October.
"We have had bad harvests over the last couple of years with the crops producing a limited number of berries," Sid Hulse, marketing manager at US Nutra, one of the leading suppliers of the ingredient to the nutraceutical industry, told NutraIngredientsUSA.com.
"Companies were getting to the bottom of their inventories, but this year the plants looked good."
Hulse explained that when the first hurricane Charlie hit Florida, the damage to the saw palmetto crops seemed to be minimal, but the wet conditions made access to the crops difficult. Moreover, he said that the workers who tend to pick the berries then decided to help repair the mess left in the wake of the storm, leaving a lack of hands to pick the berries when it was finally possible to get to them.
"When the berries are ripe they have to be picked and processed within four days," said Hulse.
Furthermore, any fruit that had survived Charlie met its match in the form of Francis - which thrust into Georgia where the next saw palmetto crop would have come from - ,then Ivan and Jean.
Hulse doesn't believe this freak weather will be completely detrimental to the supplement industry or that suppliers will be forced to seek out alternatives.
"There's no risk of the pipeline becoming empty," he noted. "All the companies to which we supply have their full quota of saw palmetto products on shop shelves and in their warehouses."
However, he has the feeling European suppliers haven't managed to get their desired quota, which means they may turn to US suppliers. Moreover, Hulse said that prices have almost doubled since before the harvest.
"Pre-Charlie to now, prices have jumped from the $50-$60 range to around $120," said Hulse.
He believes this is nothing too worry about too much and that it is still a reasonable price, based on the fact prices were fairly low a few years ago, down in the mid-$30s, and that $50-$60 was much more realistic price.
It now remains to be seen how much - if any - of this increase will be passed across to the consumer - and to hope for a clear weather front next year. Another bad harvest could mean the situation changing from "tight" to critical.
Saw palmetto is a popular herb due to its ability to reduce the frequency and urgency of urination in men with prostate enlargement. More than $33 million worth of saw palmetto supplements were sold in 2002/3 in the US according to market research firms SPINS and ACNielsen.