Common name: Devil’s claw
Other names: Grapple plant, wood spider
Latin name: Harpagophytum procumbens
Affinities: Immune system, muscleoskeletal system, digestive system
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, anodyne, antirheumatic, digestive bitter
Specific indications: Hot inflamed joints, joint pain, sharp shooting pains, muscular pain, weak appetite
Diseases: Osteoarthritis(1), gout(3), sciatica(3), neuralgia(3), rheumatoid arthritis(2)
Parts used: Rhizome
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Characteristics: Devil’s claw is a perennial herb that grows in the dry highlands of Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa (Castleman, 2001). It has hook shaped fruits that give the plant its name.
History: The South African native people have used devil’s claw for many centuries to treat upset stomach, fever, inflammation, and pain (Castleman, 2001). Kuhn and Winston (2000) list devil’s claw’s traditional use to include; bitter tonic for indigestion, type II diabetes, fever reduction, blood purifier, rheumatism, headaches, and lower back pain.
Current applications: Thomas Bartram, in his Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine, recommends Devils claw for inflammatory arthritis, but also gout, sciatica, and neuralgia (Bartram, 2013). David Hoffman in his text, Holistic Herbal, mentions devil’s claw is effective for some cases of arthritis (Hoffman, 1988). He also mentions it may be helpful in the case of liver and gall-bladder complaints.
Science: It is thought the iridoids, compounds present in the secondary roots of devil’s claw, are responsible for the pharmacological properties of devil’s claw (Baghdikian et al., 1997). Of them, harpagoside is the main iridoid which displays analgesic activity in vivo models alongside other compounds in the roots (Lanhers et al., 1992), however, it does not appear to have anti-inflammatory activity. In this study, the investigators found the whole root extract displays anti-inflammatory activity (Lanhers et al., 1992). Analgesic and anti-inflammatories are supported in human clinical trials against osteoarthritis (Leblan et al., 2000) and muscular pain (Göbel et al., 2001). In the osteoarthritis study, a devil’s claw root extract was found to have similar activity to the antirheumatic drug, diacerhein (Leblan et al., 2000).
Safety: High. However, it may cause stomach upset in sensitive individuals, especially at high doses, it is recommended to be avoided if there is a sensitive or inflamed digestive lining (e.g. peptic ulcers).
Dosage: Dried extract; up to six 500mg capsules per day (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). Tincture; 5-60 drops 2-3 times daily.
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory and analgesic: A study using in vivo experimental models found that a root extract of devil’s claw displayed significant dose dependent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects (Lanhers et al., 1992). However, the primary glycoside, harpagoside, was not found to be responsible for this anti-inflammatory activity, but was implicated in an analgesic effect alongside other unknown compounds.
Research on humans
Osteoarthritis: One study (N=122, double blind alternate medicine controlled) found that treatment of patients with osteoarthritis with devil’s claw (2,610 mg per day) or the drug diacerhein (100 mg per day) over 4 months found considerable significant symptomatic improvements in both groups (Leblan et al., 2000). However, the use of additional medications such as diclofenac was significantly reduced in the devil’s claw group compared with the diacerhein group.
Muscular pain: A study (N=63, double blind placebo controlled) observed that treatment of patients with muscular tension or muscular pain of the back, shoulder and neck with devil’s claw (2×480 mg/day) brought about a significant improvement in symptoms after 4 weeks (Göbel et al., 2001).
Baghdikian, B., et al. “An analytical study and anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of Harpagophytum procumbens and Harpagophytum zeyheri.” Planta Medica 63.02 (1997): 171-176.
Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.
Castleman, Michael. The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Nature’s Best Medicines Featuring the Top 100 Time-Tested Herbs. Rodale, 2001.
Göbel, H., et al. “Effects of Harpagophytum procumbens LI 174 (devil’s claw) on sensory, motor und vascular muscle reagibility in the treatment of unspecific back pain.” Schmerz (Berlin, Germany) 15.1 (2001): 10-18.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
Lanhers, Marie-Claire, et al. “Anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of an aqueous extract of Harpagophytum procumbens.” Planta Medica 58.02 (1992): 117-123.
Leblan, D., P. Chantre, and B. Fournie. “Harpagophytum procumbens in the treatment of knee and hip osteoarthritis. Four-month results of a prospective, multicenter, double-blind trial versus diacerhein.” Joint, bone, spine: revue du rhumatisme 67.5 (2000): 462-467.