Natural Foods Merchandiser

Drought withers saw palmetto crop, drives up prices

Only barely recovering from previous seasons' hurricane damage, Florida's saw palmetto harvest is now being strained by drought conditions. Prices for nutraceutical-quality extracts of the herb are expected to rise 20 percent to 30 percent thanks to one of the worst berry yields on record, according to Eustis, Fla.-based saw palmetto extract producer Valensa. But manufacturers say these raw ingredient price increases won't likely be passed on to consumers. Saw palmetto berries, touted for prostate health, are known to grow only in the southeastern United States. Harvested between August and October, the plants grow wild, without any farming or cultivation. In a statement, Valensa President Rudi Moerck explained that saw palmetto buyers will often purchase berries while they're still immature, exacerbating an already small harvest and leaving fewer berries to ripen for nutraceutical-quality extracts. According to the company, clinical trials that have shown positive effects of supplementation on prostate health used fully mature saw palmetto berries that met U.S. Pharmacopeia monograph specifications.

According to Mike Bias, chief operating officer of Fountain Valley, Calif.-based Paradise Herbs, there's no need for shoppers to be alarmed yet. His company foresaw a shortage and stocked up on saw palmetto extract earlier in the year. Paradise Herbs will likely absorb any additional price increases instead of passing them on to customers, he said.

But for some manufacturers, the drought has brought more concerns than just lack of supply. Some companies fear rising extract prices might mean more imitations and adulterated products could enter the market, marring the image of saw palmetto as an herbal supplement.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 15

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