To curb exploitation, Florida now requires special permit to harvest saw palmetto

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Valensa
Photo: Valensa

Related tags: Saw palmetto, Florida

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) now requires saw palmetto harvesters and sellers to obtain a special permit, winning applause from ingredient suppliers and botanical industry trade groups.

In a notice on the Florida Farm Bureau website, the state agency announced​ that the requirement extends to landowners harvesting saw palmetto berries for sale or a contracted harvester working on either public or private land.

It also extends to “anyone who transports for sale, sells, or offers to sell the berries.”

The rule goes into effect today. Details of the permit, called the Native Plant Harvesting Permit, can be read here​.

Supplier: Rule brings ‘much needed oversight’

Saw palmetto is native to the southeastern United States. For centuries, indigenous societies in the region such as the Seminole have used the plant medicinally.

Today, supplements with saw palmetto extract ranks 15th​ among top-selling herbal supplements in the US mainstream retail channel, and 10th​ in the US natural channel, raking in a combined $24,9 million in sales in 2016, according to the latest HerbalGram report​. The extract is often marketed for its urinary tract and prostate health benefits.

But its commercialization has led to the plant’s exploitation. “Widespread gathering of these berries is depleting a wildlife food source and threatening the stability of some ecosystems,”​ according to the FDACS notice. “Saw palmetto has been added to the state’s list of commercially exploited plants.”

Ingredient supplier Valensa, headquartered in Orlando, FL, applauded the new measure. The company commercializes several ingredients containing saw palmetto—100% pure saw palmetto under brand name USPlus and a prostate health blend of saw palmetto and tomato lycopene called Prostate 360.

In a statement, the company said the measure brings much needed oversight to preserve the Florida botanical and wildlife ecosystems.

“Professionals involved in the industry won’t have issues meeting the requirements,” ​Larry McCarty, VP of production and supply chain of Valensa International, told NutraInrgedients-USA.

“In recent years, due to the price levels of berries, there has been an uptick of amateur harvesters and increasing violations of landowners rights. Valensa believes there should be zero tolerance for those harvesting illegally, and these illegal harvesters should be out of the industry.

Requirement may encourage harvest timing, boosting product quality

McCarty added that “only professionals should harvest, and only when the berries are ripe for picking,” ​and he believes the new permit requirement will encourage this.

Saw Palmetto-MichaelFreifeld-GettyImages-870825404
A saw palmetto forest in Florida. The new rule from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) states that a landowner harvesting saw palmetto berries for sale or a contracted harvester working on either public or private land must obtain a Native Plant Harvesting Permit from the Division of Plant Industry. Photo: Getty Images / Michael Freifeld

Echoing his sentiments are the American Botanical Council (ABC) and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA). Timing of harvest is a crucial component that affects the bioavailability and efficacy of the extracted compounds, experts of the botanical argue.

“[The requirement] may contribute to product quality—you have to get a new permit every year, and so one of the issues we’ve been dealing with for quite some time is harvesting at the right time of year,” ​Michael McGuffin, president of AHPA, told us.

His trade group has a committee called the Non-Timber Forest Products subcommittee, which has been working for years to put into a place a program that encourages proper timing of saw palmetto harvest.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about is can we affect the harvest date and get it harvested after a greater portion of berries or fruit is already ripe,” ​he added.

“I think that if anything, [this new rule] is going to push for a little more orderliness in the collection and may contribute to what we’re working on already to improve product quality.”

Dr. Stefan Gafner, chief science officer of ABC, said that Florida’s new rule overall “seems an appropriate step to help improve the overall quality of the berries.”

“If the regulation is well implemented, if permits are given when the berries are almost ripe, we may see a lower incidence of immature berry harvesting.

A measure for other botanicals?

Dr. Gafner added that he thinks a similar measure can be applied to other plants where the harvest is limited and poaching is rampant.

“American ginseng comes to mind, but in this case, the area to enforce a law is much larger than Florida. Goldenseal may be another crop where such a permit system may be helpful. And it’s unclear how much the penalties are helpful as a deterrent for poaching.”

But there are instances where such a scheme wouldn’t make sense.

“Black cohosh doesn’t seem to be a case where such a system makes sense, although I wouldn’t want to have someone dig up my entire backyard to get black cohosh roots,”​ he said.

“On the other hand, I always liked the fact that, growing up in Switzerland, I was allowed to gather bilberries, raspberries, and other small fruit, and wild mushrooms on most public and private forests.”

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