Devil’s Claw Harpagophytum procumbens

Grapple Plant, Wood Spider, Hook Plant

Traditional Use

The root of Devil’s Claw has been used medicinally for thousands of years by the San and Khoi people of the Kalahari Desert. Ancient African healers would use this root to treat a wide spectrum of complaints, ranging from pain during child birth, fevers, wounds and joint pain to its most common application for indigestion.
In around 1906 it was discovered by Western medicine in the form of a German colonial soldier, G H Mehnert, who spent the next 40 years studying the properties of this fascinating and powerful herb.


South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Mostly in the Kalahari Desert and Namibian Steppes.

Parts used

Secondary tuber like roots.


Iridoid glycosides, harpagoside, 8-p-coumaroylharpagide, 8-feruloylharpagide, 8-cinnamoylmyoporoside, pagoside, acteoside, isoacteoside, 6′-O-acetylacteoside, 6-diacetylacteoside, cinnamic acid, caffeic acid, procumbide, and procumboside.
Other componants include: flavonoids, fatty acids, aromatic acids, harpagoquinone, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol, triterpenes and sugars.


Taking high doses of Devil’s Claw may upset the stomach in some people. Individuals with stomach ulcers, gallstones or duodenal ulcers should not take Devil’s Claw.
There have yet to be any studies on Devil’s Claw and pregnant or breastfeeding women and is therefore not recommended.
People with heart disease or high or low blood pressure should consult their healthcare professional before taking Devil’s Claw.
Devil’s Claw might thin the blood and so people taking blood thinning medication should consult a doctor before taking this herb.
Diabetics should not take Devil’s Claw except under strict medical supervision, since it can significantly lower the dose of insulin required.


Devil’s Claw has been studied extensively for the pain relief it can provide to sufferers of arthritis and osteoarthritis. A set of studies were conducted to test the analgesic effects of Devil’s Claw. The results demonstrated that this herb is effective in decreasing knee and hip osteoarthritis pain; however the mechanism by which it does it is not well understood. Devil’s Claw components, called iridoid glucosides, especially harpagoside, may be responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects.
The German Commission (a committee made up of scientists, toxicologists, doctors, and pharmacists formed by the German government in 1978 to find out if herbs sold in Germany are safe and effective), has approved Devil’s Claw for use in rheumatic and arthritic conditions. Devil’s Claw benefits aren’t just limited to hip and knee pain, studies have also shown that it can help back and neck problems too.
Devil’s Claw is also beneficial in decreasing the progression of osteoarthritis by preventing cartilage degradation.
Wound Healing
The root of Devil’s Claw can be applied to wounds to stimulate healing. The anti-inflammatory effects of this herb coupled with the pain relief it provides are thought to be responsible for its traditional use as a skin healer.

Digestive Health
Known as a powerful digestive tonic, the flavonoids and phytosterols found in Devil’s Claw are antioxidant, choleretic (stimulate bile production) and antispasmodic which help to maintain overall digestive health. It can provide considerable relief from heartburn as it soothes the inflammation caused by acid reflux. Devil’s Claw can also help in relieving the symptoms of an upset stomach by suppressing inflammation of the stomach.
Weight Loss
In a study conducted at the University College of Cork in Ireland, it was shown that Devil’s Claw can slow down or even stop the production of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. This herb may be useful for weight loss in suppressing hunger pangs if overeating is a problem, and could make it a promising treatment for “Binge Eating Disorder”. In fact Devil’s Claw is now being investigated for its use as an anti-obesity treatment.


The San Bushman, or ‘Khoisan’ people, of Southern Africa are possibly the closest representation to the first humans to ever walk the Earth, and have inhabited the Kalahari Desert for at least 20,000 years.

The San Bushmen have no concept of land ownership and live almost completely on the hunter/gatherer principle. Nomadic and wandering, their medical resources are usually the province of the women of a particular tribe or family. Devil’s Claw has been used for centuries, if not millennia, by dwellers of the Kalahari region to treat illnesses such as fevers, diseases of the digestive tract, skin problems, and various aches and pains.

The plant itself lives in very harsh conditions and stores many nutrients and moisture in the roots which makes them fat and phytochemical rich. The San Bushmen prepare a tea from the fresh root which they drink regularly. Some anthropologists have observed that you hardly ever see any of the San people hobbling and attribute this to the amount of Devil’s Claw that is consumed.

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