Harpagophytum procumbens – Devil’s claw

Herbs for Health ed142 jul14

At this time of year when the cold gets into the bones, those of us of an “interesting age” might need an anti-inflammatory herb to help ease the pain of arthritis. Harpagophytum procumbens – Devil’s claw has been used as a medicinal plant by the San of the Kalahari for many generations.

William Burchell named this plant procumbens, (meaning prostrate or lying down) in 1822 and in 1840, Meisner Harpagophytum, for devil’s claw, ‘grapple plant’ in Greek. In 1904, G.H. Mehnert learnt about the plant from the San and Nama people in Namibia and exported it to Germany first, where a small industry developed. World demand has risen since 1962 and Namibia has exported 2000t dried roots in a year that may have involved up to 50 million plants.

Harpagophytum procumbens subsp. Procumbens is found in most of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, with subsp. Transvaalense found only in the far north of Limpopo Province, in dry sandveld, on deep Kalahari sand and rocky soils that are generally nutrient poor, often with lime. The plants can probably withstand some frost as they are geophytes, being dormant in winter.

They do not like competition from other plants. Bees or crawling insects may be the pollinators or perhaps hawk moths as they visit other similar flowers. The fruits are well adapted for dispersal by animals as the hooks get caught in feet or skin and are carried away to eventually drop off and break open, releasing the seeds far from the parent plant. The secondary tubers are dug up and eaten by porcupines and antelope such as duiker and steenbok.

The bitter secondary root stock is a strong anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-arrhythmic, antibacterial, anti-rheumatic, used in western medicine for arthritis and rheumatism. It works like cortisone but without the side effects, and is approved as a non-prescription medicine by the German Commission E.

It also helps with diseases of the liver, gall bladder, kidneys, pancreas, digestive system (heartburn, peptic ulcers, constipation and lack of appetite) and small joints, as well as hypertension, high cholesterol and tuberculosis. Externally it helps heal ulcers, boils, skin lesions and wounds, arthritic pain.

Use 1 teaspoon powder in a cup of boiling water, strained, taken over a day or as a tincture. Make an ointment or cream for sores, ulcers & boils and pain relief.

Contra Indications and Special Precautions:
Do not use during pregnancy and is contra-indicated for diabetics. Devil’s Claw promotes the secretion of stomach acid, leading to difficulties in those with peptic ulcers, gastritis or excess stomach acid. Care should also be taken for individuals with gallstones. High doses may counter- act blood pressure and cardiac therapy. Do not take devil’s claw if you are on blood thinning drugs, as it may interfere with the action of ticlopidine and warfarin.

Having said all that, I have been taking Devil’s claw since 2000, both internally and topically, and have had excellent results for my arthritis.

Yours in herbs,
Diane Aldworth