The herbal remedy identified as the devil's claw by herbalist is in fact, the secondary storage roots of the plant Harpagophylum procumbens DC., which is a native South African herb of the plant family known as Pedaliaceae. The plants peculiarly shaped fruits give the herbal remedy its common name the “Devil's Claw”, as the fruits seem to be covered all over with what resemble miniature grappling hooks. The devil's claw, is the name commonly attributed to the plant in the United States, this interesting name is in reality, a literal translation of the German common name Teufelskralle by which it was first identified. The other synonymous name for this herb in the English language includes the “wood spider” and the “grapple plant”.
Scientific studies have confirmed many of the folklore based herbal indications which suggest that the devil's claw has many proven uses, both as an anti-arthritic and anti-rheumatic agent - many studies have independently verified this contention. The herb also has other uses, and to this day, it continues to be widely utilized, as a stimulant for appetite and as an aid to digestion - largely in the continent of Europe. Cheaper medication both herbal and synthesized can serve the same function and are advised for use as the authentic herb is quite expensive to procure. Side effects are absent and the devil's claw is believed to be free of all appreciable toxic effects - remedies from the herb are therefore quite safe for long term use by patients. However, the devil's claw is a herb, and any remedy derived from it must not be construed to be a wonder medication or panacea for the treatment of any condition - there are definite things the herb can do and things it simply cannot.
Different tribal people in South Africa have traditionally used the devil's claw as a part of their herbal remedies; these include the Khoikhoin and the Bantu peoples. The tonic made from the devil's claw has traditionally been used very widely and it has many purported benefits, particularly in the alleviation of various digestive problems. The herbal tonic has also been used in the treatment of arthritis and long term rheumatism; it has been used to reduce persistent fevers. The herbal remedies made from the devil's claw has also seen widespread use in the form of an ointment to treat sores, various types of ulcers, and boils on the skin.
The use of the herbal remedies made from the devil's claw, today in the West is broadly similar to its traditional application and use in tribal medicine. Many herbal shops commonly stock the devil's claw as over the counter medication, in tablet form for the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions. The herbal remedy can help relieve pain produced by a range of joint and muscular problems, which can include the common gout, all forms of back pain, disorders such as fibrositis, and long term rheumatoid arthritis.
A variety of conditions are treated using the remedies made from the devil's claw. This herb is usually recommended for the treatment of conditions such as all forms of disorders and diseases affecting the liver, the conditions affecting the kidneys, and the urinary bladder, it is also used in the treatment of various allergies, and disorders such as long term arteriosclerosis, it is used in the treatment of lumbago and other back problems, it is used in the treatment of different types of gastrointestinal disturbances, it is used in the treatment of many forms of menstrual difficulties. Conditions such as neuralgia and persistent headache are treated using the herb. The herb is also used in the treatment of climacteric -change of life - induced problems and conditions, it is used in the treatment of heartburn, to treat nicotine poisoning, and last but not least, in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritis in patients. The devil's claw supposed ability to induce abortion in users remains unverified and is probably false. This rumor may have developed due to the misinterpretation of an early statement by Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk who stated that the herb was extensively used by African natives to help alleviate the pain felt by pregnant women and who also reported its widespread use in native women anticipating a difficult delivery or long labor. Some still consider this herb a “wonder” even when they discounted this supposed bad property, as a lot of therapeutic activities can be attributed to the devil's claw.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The devil's claw is most abundant in the veldt (grassland) of the Transvaal region in South Africa, though the herb is native to most of southern and eastern Africa. The types of habitats that the devil's claw herb thrives best in are clay or sandy soils; it seems to prefer the soils along roadsides and grows well in waste grounds. The herb teems especially in places where the natural vegetation has already been cleared for other uses. The herb is propagated from stocked seed during the spring season, and the young tubers of the herb are usually retrieved in the autumn. After these are harvested, they are cut into many pieces, each about 3/4 of an inch - or 2 cm in length. The tubers are usually carefully handled and are normally not mixed with the roots, because the tubers contain the important and essential compounds, mixing the two parts of the plant may render the herbal remedy prepared from the herbal ineffective.
The digestive system of a person is toned and stimulated by the strongly bitter action of the herbal remedy made from the devil's claw. Poor digestion and absorption of food is the main reason for many different arthritic conditions, and the stimulatory effects of this herb on the general functioning of the stomach and gallbladder is the best contributor to the overall therapeutic value of the herb as an anti-arthritic agent - for the treatment of which, it is usually prescribed by herbalist around the world.
In 1976, there was a report from a limited clinical study carried out in Germany; the study suggested that the devil's claw exhibited significant anti-inflammatory activity, which was almost comparable in its overall effects, a variety of conventional anti-arthritic medications, such as the compound phenylbutazone.
While the opinion is still divided over the supposed anti-inflammatory action of the herb, recent French research conducted in 1992, showed results that indicated the anti-inflammatory action of devil's claw, however, its effectiveness in actual herbal practice is disputed and remains to be proven.
Studies conducted fairly recently in Germany, in a randomized and double-blind clinical method, which tried to evaluate the effects of the herbal medication on persistent or chronic low back pain in 118 patients, suggested other results - the trial was conducted over a trial period lasting four weeks. The main treatment group consisted of patients who were given the equivalent of 6 g of the dried devil's claw tuber every day of the trial; the actual dose was of standardized 50 mg active harpagoside compound derived from the herb. While the results were positive, they remain somewhat inconclusive in the final analysis, various results were obtained and some patients reported a reduced level or the complete absence of acute attacks of low back pain, this result has prompted a need for further clinical studies to study this particular curative property of the herb.
Devil's claw contains harpagoside, harpagide, procumbine.
The herbal remedy can be used to stimulate digestive processes, in which case, the dosage requirement for the powdered secondary tuber is about 1, 5 - 2 grams, per person, every day. If the herbal tincture is preferred, then the recommended dosage amount is 1-2 ml of the tincture, per person, every day of the treatment period. Individuals can also take the herbal remedy for the treatment of persistent arthritis, and many patients take 4.5-10 grams, of the herb every day as supplements. However, it must be reiterated here that the recent studies have lent no supporting evidence to the devil's claw supposed ability to treat arthritis in affected individuals.
Side effects and cautions
The ability of the herbal remedy made from the devil's claw to promote the production of stomach acid is well known. For this reason, individuals affected by gastric or duodenal ulcers should desist from using the herb in any form, as it may result in unpleasant and painful side effects.