HEALTH

Devil’s Claw Root for Joint Pain

Dear readers,

You might be interested to see how a “monograph” style report on a herb is done. Here you will find that kind of presentation for Devil’s Claw, a traditional and scientifically corroborated remedy for arthritis. The categories below are typical of how herbalists organize information about a plant. I have spread you the references at the end. Other than that, this will show you what types of information are considered when investigating a medicinal plant.

Other Names

Devil’s claw root is the common name for the tubers of Harpogophytum procumbens.
- Other names include Devil’s claw root, grapple plant and wood spider.

What Is It?

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Devil’s claw is an herbacious African perennial plant, native to the Kalahari savanna of Southern Africa, the Namibian steppes, and Madagascar. The plant lies flat on the ground, with long branches which extend to 1.5 metres in length. Devil’s claw root refers to the dried, secondary tubers of the plant, which are used medicinally, primarily in Africa and Europe. According to ESCOP the roots should contain not less than 1.0% of the compound harpagoside. Devil’s claw root plays a valuable role in African folk medicine, where it has been used as a digestive tonic, for blood disorders, to reduce fever, as an analgesic, and to relieve various complaints during pregnancy.

Devil’s claw root has been the subject of analysis into its constituents, animal and human studies. Devil’s claw root is available in dried natural form for tea, or in capsules, tablets, fluid extracts and ointments. The herb is most popularly used to relieve arthritis. Topical preparations of Devil’s claw root are applied to sores, ulcers, boils and skin lesions.

Medicinal History

In its origins in South Africa, Devil’s claw root was used for fever, stomach upsets and rheumatic disorders. Its bitterness drew attention to its usefulness for general digestive complaints. The root was also employed by African women to alleviate pain during pregnancy. Devil’s claw root was introduced to Western medicine by a South African farmer, G.H. Mehnert, who observed its broad uses among natives. Devil’s claw root was first used in Europe in 1953, where it has enjoyed use for arthritic, liver, bile, kidney and bladder complaints, and allergies.

Today Devils’ claw root is approved by Germany’s Commission E for loss of appetite, dyspepsia (indigestion), and supportive therapy of disorders of the locomotor system. It is approved by ESCOP for Painful arthrosis, tendinitis, loss of appetite and dyspepsia.

The most popular contemporary use for devil’s claw root is to relieve arthritis. Today in France, Devil’s claw root products can be marketed with a claim for traditional use for symptomatic relief of painful joint disorders.[i] 

Habitat & Cultivation

Devil’s claw is a wild-collected plant native to the Kalahari savanna of Southern Africa, the Namibian steppes, and Madagascar. The plant enjoys sandy soil and direct sun, and minimum temperatures of 41ø F. The tubers are removed during the plant’s dormant period. They are cut into sections after harvest and are dried. The slices are then used to make Devil’s claw root preparations.

How It Works

Devil’s claw root contains a group of compounds called the iridoid glucosides, which include harpagoside, and are anti-inflammatory. The root contains several other anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Other agents in devil’s claw root, including flavonoids and phytosterols, are antioxiant, choleretic (stimulate bile production) and antispasmodic. The combination of anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and digestion-enhancing agents supports the uses of devil’s claw for those purposes.

Contemporary Uses Approved by Authoritative Bodies

Germany’s Commission E approves the use of Devil’s claw root for:
- Loss of appetite, dyspepsia (indigestion), and supportive therapy of disorders of the locomotor system (notably arthritis).
ESCOP approves the use of Devil’s claw root for:
- Painful arthrosis, tendinitis, loss of appetite and dyspepsia.

Potential Risks

Safety issues and concerns
- There are no particular safety concerns regarding Devil’s claw root other than the contraindications described below.
- Mild gastro-intestinal disturbance might occur in sensitive individuals.

Contraindications – based on conditions and medication intake, etc.
- Do not use Devil’s claw root in cases of gastric and duodenal ulcers.
-  In case of gallstones, consult a physician before using

Potentially harmful drug interactions
- No harmful drug interactions with Devil’s claw root are known.
- Devil’s claw root might possibly interact with other anti-arthritic drugs.

Allergy precautions
- No allergies to devil’s claw root are known.

Usage Tips

According to Germany’s Commission E,
- Use the equivalent of 1.5 grams of devils’ claw root per day for loss of appetite.
- Use 4.5 grams of devil’s claw root for supportive therapy of disorders of the locomotor system (notably arthritis).
- To make tea, pour 10 ounces of boiling water over 4.5 grams (1 teaspoon) of finely chopped devils’ claw root. Let sit covered overnight. Strain and drink the next day.
- Use Devil’s claw root products as directed.
- In cases of arthritis, Use Devil’s claw root for at least 2-3 months for best results.

Product Choosing/Buying Tips

- Select certified organic Devil’s claw root products whenever available.
- Choose Devil’s claw root products from companies with good reputations.

Devil’s Claw Root helps muscular pain. A study reported on patients with slight to moderate muscular tension or slight muscular pain of the back, shoulder and neck. On a double-blind randomised basis, a total of 31 patients received doses of Devil’s claw root extract twice daily, and 32 received a placebo. The duration of the therapy was 4 weeks. A highly significant clinical efficacy was achieved with Devil’s claw extract in cases of slight to moderate muscular pain

Devil’s claw review proves positive. In an published analysis of several Devil’s claw root studies, extracts of the secondary tubers of Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) proved valuable for the supportive treatment of degenerative painful rheumatism. Use of devil’s claw extract improved motility and a reduction of pain sensation in several clinical studies. Pharmacological experiments have shown analgesic, antiphlogistic and antiinflammatory actions.

Fun Facts/Trivia
- Devil’s claw derives its common name for the sharp claws or “grapples” which protrude from the branches.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com

[i]Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed., (Paris: Lavoisier Publishing 1993). 487

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide, and is the author of fifteen books. Read more at MedicineHunter.com.