Herb to Know: Devil's Claw

This wild African plant combats joint pain.

| February/March 2011

Devil's Claw
• Genus:
Harpagophytum procumbens
• Harpagophytum means hook plant in Greek.
• Procumbens means prostrate in Latin.
• Also known as grapple plant or wood spider
• Grows in the warm African savanna or grasslands

• Try These: Beat Joint Pain With These Products 

Devil’s claw. You only have to take one look at the grasping fingers extending from its fruit to understand the name. Despite the ominous sound of its common name, Harpagophytum procumbens is an attractive perennial valued for its healing powers.

See an image of devil's claw growing. 

This member of the sesame seed family can be found in southern Africa, where it grows wild in the savannas. Its grayish-green leaves trail the sandy terrain of the Kalahari Desert, sometimes reaching a length of several feet. It produces red, purple or pink trumpet-shaped flowers from November through April, and its flat, oval fruit produces dark brown or black seeds. However, it’s the plant’s roots and potato-like tubers that are valued the most and harvested for medicinal purposes.

How to Use Devil’s Claw

For centuries, Africans have used devil’s claw to treat ailments of all kinds: liver disorders, malaria, diabetes, fever, high cholesterol, toxins in the blood, and the pain of pregnancy, arthritis and rheumatism. Externally, it has been used in ointments to help heal ulcers, boils, wounds and skin rashes. An early 20th-century German, G. A. Menhert, reported witnessing African tribesmen using devil’s claw for insect bites and stomach ailments.

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