'Berry busts': Fla. deputies make 15 arrests, seize hundreds of pounds of illegal berries

The Indian River County Sheriff's Office said that harvesting saw palmetto berries illegally is dangerous because it often involves trespassing on private land

By Makiya Seminera
The Charlotte Observer

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — A berry used in natural supplements has been the target of people looking to illegally harvest them, Florida deputies say.

Fifteen people were arrested in what the Indian County Sheriff’s Office called a “berry bust” for illegally picking saw palmetto berries, according to the sheriff’s office Facebook post. In the process, the sheriff’s office, along with the Sebastian Police Department and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, confiscated “hundreds of pounds of illegal berries,” the post says.

Saw palmetto is a plant native to the Southeast that can grow 10 feet tall, according to WebMD. The prickly plant produces berries that, when ripe, can be used for medicinal properties.

Some possibly effective uses for saw palmetto extract, according to WebMD, include preventing hair loss and relieving urinary tract issues. Web MD specifies although people may use saw palmetto as a natural supplement for these issues, there is no definitive scientific proof that it works.

The berries transform from yellow to black as they ripen between August and October, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Florida law requires a person to have a permit to “harvest and sell saw palmetto berries” as of July 2018, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Saw palmetto is also on the department’s “commercially exploited plant list.”

Despite perceived health benefits, the negative impact of the berry is when people decide to “plunder” property to pick the berries, the sheriff’s office says.

“Problems from this illegal activity include trespassing, theft, and damaging property such as fences and posts being cut and at times causing livestock to wander onto roadways,” the post says.

Multiple people who shared the sheriff’s office’s post were outraged over the “berry bust,” saying there were more important things to be concerned about in the area.

“Leave them people alone they just trying to make some money,” one person said.

“OVER SUM BERRIES??? People and babies out here missing but y’all worried about sun berries,” another said.

The sheriff’s office encourages people who see others illegally harvesting the berries to report the crime.

©2023 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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