IT MAY NOT be the California Gold Rush, but the skirmishes over berries are getting nasty in Florida and southern Georgia. At issue is the saw palmetto berry--a popular ingredient in prostate nostrums sold by health-food stores. With little regard for private property, pickers roam through land where the olive-size berries grow wild on shrubs. During the picking season just ended, the Collier County (Fla.) sheriff's office was flooded with trespass complaints from local landowners, who want to bring in the berry crops themselves.
Why the picking frenzy? A few years ago, the berries fetched 25 cents a pound; this season, $3.50. Picking 50 pounds a day brings you $175.
France's Pierre Fabre and American companies such as Nature's Way process the berries into capsules reputed to retard prostate swelling and bolster sexual potency. So far, no one has cultivated the plant, which takes seven years to sprout berries. How effective is this stuff? Dr. Jay Gillenwater, president of the American Foundation of Urological Disease, says patients have gotten results. He says the berries have the same component as prescription prostate drugs--but he says prescription drugs are more effective.