Devil's claw

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Harpagophytum procumbens Pedaliaceae Also called Grapple plant.

A native of southern Africa, where it has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments from indigestion and fever to skin cancer, devil's claw gets its name from its strange capsule-like fruits that are covered in what look like miniature grappling hooks. In summer, this creeping peretlllial bears stunning deep red, trumpet-shaped flowers.

Parts used

  • Tubers
  • The tubers, or swollen roots, are dug up in autumn, dried and cut into small round pieces.
  • They are used for infusions, powders and drinkable solutions and in ointments, gels and creams.
  • Only wild plants are used in herbal medicines, which could potentially endanger the survival of the species.


The major constituents are iridoids (monoterpenic glucosides), which make up 0.5 to 3 per cent of the dried drug. Harpagoside is the most active of these medicinally; therefore it is best to choose preparations that contain at least 1.5 to 2 per cent harpagoside. Phytosterols and flavonoids are also present.

Medicinal uses

Studies have demonstrated that devil's claw can help to relieve pain and in some cases improve mobility in people suffering from osteoarthritis or degenerative rheumatism. The anti-inflammatory powers conferred by harpagoside and the phytosterols are responsible for this, and the plant is often recommended for treating less serious cases of rheumatism. It is also used externally for joint pain.

The bitter principles help to stimulate the digestive system, and the plant is used to treat indigestion.


This species has proved impossible to cultivate outside its native habitat.


For internal use

TO TREAT minor cases of rheumatism and joint pain INFUSION Put 1 sachet (2g) into 200ml of boiling water. Take one to three times a day. (To reduce the bitterness, sweeten with some honey.)

CAPSULES Take 300mg-750mg a day in three doses before meals. DRINKABLE SOLUTION Put 1 sachet into a glass of water. Drink twice a day with meals. For external use

TO TREAT minor joint pains GELS, OINTMENTS Massage in gently, twice a day.



  • Although generally well tolerated, devil's claw may cause diarrhoea.
  • Never take devil's claw when pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Devil's claw is not recommended for people who suffer from duodenal or stomach ulcers.


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