Valensa to use state seal to help shine light on saw palmetto quality issues

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Valensa
Photo: Valensa

Related tags Saw palmetto Pharmacology Nutrition Botanical extracts Florida

Valensa International has fixed on a certification from the Florida Department of Agriculture as a way to highlight the special properties of saw palmetto and the quality issues that surround the botanical.

Valensa, which is a division of Indian firm E.I.D. Parry, has entered into the ‘Fresh from Florida’ program sponsored by the state agency. Originally meant to promote the Florida orange crop, the seal is well positioned to also promote ingredients made from saw palmetto berries, said Valensa CEO Umasudhan C.P.

Boosting authentication

“We are proud of this designation and look forward to helping everyone in our business, from the farm to the pill, learn about this treasure grown only in Florida,” ​Umasudhan said. “Marking our Saw Palmetto ‘Fresh From Florida,’ gives our customers more confidence they are receiving unadulterated, pure Saw Palmetto Extract.” 

Saw palmetto (Serenona repens​), the sole member of its genus, is a bushy, shrublike member of the palm family native primarily to Florida, with smatterings in the adjacent coastal states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. The plant grows prolifically in Florida in dense thickets on sandy soils. The plant is hardy and very slow growing, and some stands in the state are reported to be hundreds of years old.

The dilatory nature of the plant’s growth means that the wildcrafted source is of utmost importance, Umasudhan said. Only berries harvested from wild stands and taken at the right time can have the benefits associated with the plant, he said. Prime among these are ameliorating the effects of BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia.

“We started talking to the department of agriculture about this seal because we believe there is a big problem with adulteration in saw palmetto,” ​Umasudhan told NutraIngredients-USA.

Worldwide trade in localized botanical

Like some other botanicals, such as cranberry, in saw palmetto there is a tendency for the raw material to make its way overseas to jurisdictions where no saw palmetto is grown only to return to international trade in one form of the ingredient or another.

According to a recent publication by the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program​, low cost vegetable oils have been used to adulterate saw palmetto extracts. BAPP is a joint effort of the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Center for Natural Products Research.

“The sale of adulterated extracts is known to the reputable manufacturers of authentic saw palmetto extracts and to many responsible manufacturers of saw palmetto dietary supplements, but there is a lack of reliable data on the extent of the problem in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Of particular concern are raw materials labeled as ‘saw palmetto extract’ that are imported from China, where saw palmetto is not known to grow. We hope that this Bulletin will help to raise awareness of this adulteration issue and ultimately increase the number of high-quality products in the market,”​ Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC’s chief science officer said in a statement released at the time of the bulletin’s publication.

The form of the ingredient is crucial, Umasudhan said. Saw palmetto berries start out green and ripen to a brownish purple color. And it’s only the ripe berries that have developed the full fatty acid profile associated with the botanical’s health benefits, Umasudhan said. Harvesting green berries and grinding them into powder, while perhaps not a case of adulteration per se, would still be a disservice to the consumer, he said.

“There are some companies harvesting green berries and grinding them up. It’s legal, but the product doesn’t work. They don’t have any oil in them. And then there are some companies selling ingredients that have been adulterated,”​ he said.

Valensa’s ingredient is branded as USPlus Saw Palmetto Extract and is offered in oil form with all of the fatty acids found in the ripe berries, Umasudhan said.

Validated harvesting window

Saw palmetto harvesting has for years been more of an art than a science.

Umasudhan said Valensa is working with experts at the University of Florida to identify validated chemical markers within the plant that could be used to pinpoint the ideal harvest window, which would vary from year to year depending on conditions.

That way, if a certain window were announced for a given year, it could shed light on the practice of dryers churning out dehydrated berries for shipment at different times that might have low levels of bioactives, he said.

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