Botanical Name: Harpagophytum procumbens
Native to southern Africa, devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is named for the miniature hooks that cover its fruit. For thousands of years, the Khoisan peoples of the Kalahari Desert have used devil's claw root in remedies to treat pain and complications of pregnancy and in topical ointments to heal sores, boils, and other skin problems. Since its introduction to Europe from Africa in the early 1900s, dried roots have been used to restore appetite, relieve heartburn, and reduce pain and inflammation. In fact, mounting evidence suggests that devil's claw root may help relieve pain and inflammation in people with arthritis and other painful disorders, although the mechanism of action (in other words, how it reduces pain and swelling) is not well understood yet.
Several studies have found that taking devil's claw for several months substantially reduces pain and improves physical functioning in people with osteoarthritis. In a large, well-designed 4-month study including 122 people with knee and hip osteoarthritis, devil's claw root powder reduced pain and improved functional ability as effectively as standard doses of a leading European medication for osteoarthritis. Additionally, those who received devil's claw experienced fewer side effects and required fewer pain-reducing medications throughout the study.
Back and Neck Pain
Although study results have been somewhat conflicting, evidence also suggests that devil's claw may provide relief from low back and neck pain. In a small study including 63 people with mild to moderate back, neck, and/or shoulder pain, four weeks of treatment with a standardized extract of devil's claw root provided moderate relief from muscle pain. In a larger study including 197 men and women with chronic low back pain, those who received daily doses of a commercialized devil's claw extract every day for a month reported experiencing less pain and needing fewer pain-killing medications than those who received placebo.
In addition to the treatment of these and other painful disorders, many professional herbalists consider devil's claw to be useful for upset stomach, loss of appetite, headaches, allergies, and fever. Topical preparations of devil's claw are also applied to the surface of the skin to heal sores, ulcers, boils, and skin lesions.
Devil's claw does not have an odor, but it contains substances that make it taste bitter. It is a leafy perennial with branching roots and shoots. It has secondary roots, or tubers, that grow out of the main roots. The roots and tubers are used for medicinal purposes.
What's It Made Of?
Devil's claw contains iridoid glycosides, substances believed to have strong anti-inflammatory effects. Harpagoside (one type of iridoid) is highly concentrated in devil's claw root and has been shown in some laboratory studies to have potent pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
Whole or ground devil's claw roots are available as well as capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, and topical ointments. Teas (infusions) can be made from dried devil's claw root.
How to Take It
There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of devil's claw. Therefore, it is not currently recommended for children.
- Dried tuber or dried root powder: 100 to 250 mg three times a day
- Capsules containing dried root powder: 100 to 250 mg three times a day
- Liquid extract (1:1 in 25 percent alcohol): 2 to 7 drops three times a day
- Tincture (1:5 in 25 percent alcohol): 10 to 30 drops three times a day
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach for strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Devil's claw is nontoxic and safe, with virtually no side effects if taken at the recommended therapeutic dose for short periods of time. However, high doses can cause mild gastrointestinal problems in some individuals and it is not clear whether devil's claw becomes toxic if taken for long periods of time.
Individuals with stomach ulcers, duodenal ulcers, or gallstones should not take devil's claw unless recommended by a health care provider.
Safety of Devil's Claw for pregnant and breastfeeding women is not known; therefore, it should be avoided during those times.
Devil's claw may interact with warfarin (a blood-thinning medication) and cause bruising or bleeding disorders. For this reason, individuals taking warfarin should not use devil's claw without first talking to a healthcare provider.