Devil’s Claw is a geophyte, ie. a herbaceous perennial that stores water and nutrients in underground tubers in order to survive harsh climatic conditions. There are two species – Harpagophytum procumbens and Harpagophytum zeyheri – which grow mainly in the deep sandy soils of the Kalahari where there is low rainfall (less than 500mm per year). H. procumbens is found in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, while H. zeyheri occurs in these countries as well as in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Both species grow a primary underground tuber from which are formed a number of fleshy secondary tubers which can reach up to 40cm in length. Above ground, the prostrate stems emerge after the first rains and can reach up to 2m in length. They die back in winter or during droughts. The leaves are blue-green and the flowers, which open for only one day and are pollinated by bees, are a deep mauve-pink with a yellow and white throat.
Devil’s Claw belongs to the Pedaliaceae botanical family and is also known as: grapple plant, wood spider, Teufelskralle, griffe du diable, Kamangu, and many more local names.
Traditional Uses and Known Properties
The tubers of the Devil’s Claw plant are widely recognised as having anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Research has shown that Devil’s Claw offers protection against joint cartilage degradation and is effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and tendonitis. It has also been shown to have positive effects on kidney inflammation, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
The indigenous San and Khoi peoples of Southern Africa have used Devil’s Claw medicinally for centuries, if not millennia. It has also adopted into the traditional knowledge of immigrating Bantu-speakers who arrived in the area between 1500 and 500 years ago. These peoples have been recorded as using Devil’s Claw to treat dyspepsia (indigestion), fever, blood diseases, urinary tract complaints, post-partum pains, sprains, sores, ulcers and boils. The first Westerner to “discover” Devil’s Claw was the German farmer G.H. Mehnert who learned about it from local people in Namibia in 1907.
Products made with Devil’s Claw are increasingly being considered as alternatives to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAD), are registered as herbal medicines in France and Germany, and as a food supplement in the UK, Netherlands, the USA and the Far East.
The active ingredients include iridoid glycosides such as harpagoside, procumbide and harpagid; phenols such as acetosid and isoacetoside; and other substances including hapagoquinones, amino acids, flavonoids and phytosterols.
- Herbal medicines and food supplements.
- Speciality teas.
Useful studies on Devil’s Claw include:
- Baghdikian, B., M. C. Lanhers, et al. (1997). An analytical study, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of Harpagophytum procumbens and Harpagophytum zeyheri. Planta Medica 63: 171-176.
- Brien S, Lewith GT and McGregor G. (2006) Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) as a treatment for osteoarthritis: A review of efficacy and safety. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 12(10): 981-993.
- Blumenthal, M., (ed.) (1998). Entry for Devil’s Claw Root. The complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Texas, American Botanical Council: 120-121.
- Grant L, McBean DE, Fyfe L and Warnock AM. (2007) A review of the biological and potential therapeutic actions of Harpagophytum procumbens. Phytother Res 21: 199-209.
- Gregory PJ, Sperry M, Wilson AF. (2008) Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis. Am Fam Physician 77(2): 177-184.