Devil’s Claw

Botanical Name: Harpagophytum
Family: Pedaliaceae
Genus: Harpagophytum
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Lamiales

Common Name:Devil’s claw

Other Names: Harpagophytum procumbens, Grapple Plant, Wood Spider

Habitat: Devil’s claw is native to southern Africa. It is mainly found in the eastern and south eastern parts of Namibia, Southern Botswana and the Kalahari region of the Northern Cape, South Africa. Harpagophytum zeyheri is found in the northern parts of Namibia (Ovamboland) and southern Angola.

Description:  Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is an African plant whose fruit looks like a giant claw. The plant grows in an arid climate and is found in Namibia, Madagascar, the Kalahari Desert, and other areas on the African continent. The tuberous roots are used in traditional medicine. The root is collected when the rainy season ends. The root is chopped and dried in the sun for three days…… & see

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Its name comes from the small hooks on the plant’s fruit. The active ingredients in devil’s claw are believed to be iridoid glycosides called harpagosides, which are found in the secondary root.

Most of the world’s supply of devil’s claw comes from Namibia, with lesser amounts coming from South Africa and Botswana.

General Use
Devil’s claw has been used for thousands of years in Africa for fever, rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, and conditions involving the gallbladder, pancreas, stomach and kidneys.

In the early 1900’s, devil’s claw was brought to Europe. It is used to improve digestion, as the bitter taste of devil’s claw tea is thought to stimulate digestive juices.

However, the primary use of devil’s claw today is for conditions that cause inflammation and pain:
Back pain, Neck pain, Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Tendinitis

According to a study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, sales of devil’s claw in Germany were estimated to be $30 million euros in 2001, accounting for 74% of the prescriptions for rheumatism.

Devil’s claw has been used for numerous conditions in several areas of the world. In South Africa, the root and tuber have been used for centuries as an all-purpose folk remedy. Devil’s claw has been used to reduce fever and pain, to treat allergies and headache, and to stimulate digestion. Traditional healers also used devil’s claw to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, and lower back pain. Devil’s claw has also been used as a remedy for liver and kidney disorders.

Devil’s claw root was also used in folk medicine as a pain reliever and for complications with pregnancies. In addition, an ointment made from devil’s claw was used for skin injuries and disorders.

European colonists brought the African plant back to their continent where it was used to treat arthritis. In the United States, use of devil’s claw dates back to the time of slavery. The slaves brought herbs and herbal knowledge with them to the new continent.

Devil’s claw has been used as an herbal remedy in Europe for a long time. Current uses for devil’s claw are much the same as they were centuries ago. In Europe, the herb is still a remedy for arthritis and other types of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout (a painful joint inflammation disease).

Devil’s claw is also used for soft tissue conditions with inflammation, like tendinitis and bursitis. The bitter herb is also used as a remedy for loss of appetite and mildly upset stomach.

The herb is currently used for other conditions such as problems with pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. Devil’s claw is also regarded as a remedy for headaches, heartburn, liver and gallbladder problems, allergies, skin disorders, and nicotine poisoning.

European research during the late 1990s indicated that devil’s claw relieved arthritis and joint pain conditions. The herb also helped with soft muscle pain such as tendinitis. However, there is no evidence that proves devil’s claw is an effective remedy for other conditions such as difficulties during pregnancy and skin disorders.


Several forms of devil’s claw are used. In Europe, doctors treat some conditions like arthritis with an injection of devil’s claw extract. The herb is taken internally as a tea or in capsule form. When taken for pain relief, devil’s claw must be taken regularly for up to one month before results are seen. An ointment form of devil’s claw can be applied to the skin to treat wounds or scars.

Research work on devil’s claw:
There is some evidence for the use of devil’s claw, however one larger, randomized controlled trial found only a modest benefit.
A German study examined the use of devil’s claw for slight to moderate back, neck, and shoulder muscle tension and pain. In the 4-week study, 31 people took 480 mg twice a day and 32 people took a placebo. The results showed there was a significant reduction in pain in the people taking devil’s claw compared to the placebo group.

A study published in the journal Rheumatology compared a devil’s claw extract providing 60 mg harpagosides a day and and 12.5 mg a day of the anti-inflammatory Vioxx (now off the market) for 6 weeks in 79 patients with an acute exacerbation of low back pain. Devil’s claw was as effective as Vioxx in reducing pain.

A study published in the journal Joint Bone Spine compared six 435 mg capsules of powdered devil’s claw extract a day (which provides about 60 mg per day of harpagosides) with 100 mg a day of a European osteoarthritis drug called diacerhein in 122 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. After four months, devil’s claw was as effective as the diacerhein at relieving pain, improving mobility, and reducing the need for back-up medication (such as anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs). Although this sounds great, the results aren’t as impressive in light of a 3-year placebo-controlled study found diacerhein was ineffective at reducing osteoarthritis symptoms.

In a European Journal of Anaesthesiology 4-week study, 197 people with back pain rated at 5/10 or higher on a pain scale received a standardized daily dose of 50 mg or 100 mg harpagosides or placebo. Devil’s claw seemed to reduce pain more than placebo.
Devil’s claw appears to work in the same way as Cox-2 anti-inflammatory drugs such as Celebrex and also produce changes in leukotrienes, another group of molecules involved in inflammation.

Herbal Tea and Tincture:

Devil’s claw tea is prepared by pouring 1.25 cups (300 ml) boiling water over 1 tsp (4.5 g) of the herb. The mixture, which is also called an infusion, is steeped for eight hours and then strained. The daily dosage is 3 cups of warm tea.

For most conditions, the average daily dosage is 1 tsp (4.5 g) of devil’s claw herb. However, the amount is reduced to 1/3 tsp (1.5 g) when devil’s claw is taken for appetite loss.

In a tincture, the herb is preserved with alcohol. The tincture steeps for two weeks and is shaken daily. It is then strained and bottled. When devil’s claw tincture is used as a remedy, the dosage is 1 tsp (4.5 g) taken three times per day for a specified period.

Tea and tincture should be consumed 30 minutes before eating. This allows for better absorption of the herb.

Devil’s Claw Capsules:

The anti-inflammatory properties of devil’s claw are attributed to two constituents, harpagoside and beta sitoserol. If a person takes devil’s claw capsules or tablets as a remedy, attention should be paid to the harpagoside content. The daily amount of harpagoside in capsules should total 50 mg.


For arthritis treatment, devil’s claw can be combined with anti-inflammatory or cleansing herbs. In addition, devil’s claw can be combined with bogbean or meadowsweet. An herbalist, naturopathic doctor, or traditional healer can provide more information on herb combinations appropriate for a specific condition.


Devil’s claw is safe to use when proper dosage recommendations are followed, according to sources including the PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference) for Herbal Medicines, the 1998 book based on the 1997 findings of Germany’s Commission E.

Although devil’s claw has not undergone the FDA research required for approval as a remedy, other studies in Europe confirm that devil’s claw is safe for most people. However, people with ulcers should be cautious because the herb stimulates the production of stomach acid.

Furthermore, it is not known if devil’s claw is safe for people with major liver or kidney conditions. In addition, devil’s claw could cause an allergic reaction.

There is some debate in the alternative medicine community about whether pregnant women can use devil’s claw as a remedy. Some researchers say that the herb is safe to use; others say that not enough research has been done to prove that the herb is safe for pregnant women. There appears to be no scientific proof that using devil’s claw could result in miscarriages.

Side Effects
Devil’s claw has been known to trigger an allergic reaction.

Some studies have reported stomach upset, a sensation of fullness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and headache.

In animal studies, there is a small risk of changes in blood pressure, heart rhythm, and blood glucose. One study found that it enhanced the action of GABA in the brain and depressed the central nervous system. It is not known whether these effects may also occur in humans.

Devil’s claw could cause an allergic reaction or mild gastrointestinal difficulties.


Devil’s claw should not be used by people with gastric or duodenal ulcers.

People with gallstones should consult a doctor before using devil’s claw.

People with diabetes or who are taking medication that affects their blood sugar should only use devil’s claw under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner. In one study, devil’s claw extract resulted in reductions in blood glucose in fasted normal and diabetic animals.

Devil’s claw should not be used by people who are or may be pregnant, as it is believed to cause uterine contractions.


No interactions between other medications and devil’s claw have been reported according to the PDR for Herbal Medicines. However, the herb may possibly block the effect of medication taken to correct abnormal heart rhythms.

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The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

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