Devil's Claw Benefits & Information

Latin Name

Harpagophytum procumbens

Also Known As

Grapple Plant, Wood Spider, harpago


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

Parts Used

Secondary tuber like roots.

Traditional Use and Health Benefits

The tuber root from the Devil’s Claw has been used in traditional African medicine by the San and Khoi people of the Kalahari Desert for centuries. Even though most remedies are unknown, the ancient African healers had a vast materia medica of medical preparations; some of which ended up in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus. These healers believed that many of their regular foods were medicines and it is sometimes difficult to define when a food starts becoming a medicine from their materia medica. The Devil’s Claw is one exception being a very powerful herb. Collected and prepared by searching for the wild plant, ancient African healers would use the root for a great number of uses. The most prevalent of these is for common indigestion but is also used to treat any affliction that gives pain, most notably joint pain from rheumatism. Other uses, both topical and via ingestion, of the Devil’s Claw root are to treat blood problems, pain during child birth, fevers, wounds, swelling, sores and boils, skin problems, anorexia, tuberculosis, gout and high blood pressure. This plant is of great use to the San people as can be seen by the vast amount of treatments they claim it can help.



The Devil’s Claw has been heavily researched because of its introduction to western medicine very early in the 20th century. By the 1970’s the Devil’s Claw had been found to relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis and experienced a boom in sales which could not be met by commercial producers. Western applications, unlike the traditional uses, limit the use of Devil’s Claw to arthritic joints, rheumatoid aches and lower back pain. Studies have shown that people who suffer from Osteoarthritis who take only Devil’s Claw for a 8-12 week period experienced a significant reduction in pain. Another study conducted over a four month period on candidates with knee and hip osteoarthritis, comparing Devil’s Claw with a leading pharmaceutical pain reliever, found that Devil’s Claw had just as much pain reliving properties, with less side effects, than the pharmaceutical equivalent. Overall the Devil’s Claw is excellent for relieving joint pain as long as it is taken over an elongated period of time. The main chemical components in Harpagophytum procumbens root responsible for the reduction of inflammation are thought to be iridoid glycosides.

Typical Use

The tuber like root of the Devil’s Claw is used exclusively as a medicine in Southern and West Africa, Europe and Northern America. Best results are experienced from drinking a tea or eating the powdered root. Traditionally it has also been used as a topical medicine for the skin. 

Folklore and History

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. Most of their diet consists of 70-80% vegetable matter while the other odd 20% is meat based. The San Bushman have no concept of land ownership and have lived in the past almost completely on the hunter/gatherer principle. Nomadic and wandering, the San Bushman’s medical resources are usually the province of the women of a particular tribe or family. It was through interactions with the San Bushman that a German colonial soldier, G.H. Mehnert, learnt of the Devil’s Claw around 1906. For 40 years he conducted a study on the root to better realise the potential of the chemicals inside the secondary tubers. The plant itself lives in very harsh conditions and stores many nutrients and moisture in the roots which makes them fat and phytochemical rich. Mehnert discovered that he could preserve the wonderful properties of the Devil’s Claw root by drying and powdering it. The San Bushman 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. Since the 1970's Devil’s Claw has been extremely popular in Germany and has led to a lot of the wild Devil’s Claw being irresponsibly harvested. Only recently has this herb become sustainably harvested so it doesn’t become extinct. We have to thank the San Bushman for this gift of their extensive desert herb knowledge since the Devil’s Claw is so widely used and very popular.

Devil's Claw

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.