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Herbs & Botanicals

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Devil's Claw (harpagophytum procumbens)

What is devil's claw? What is it used for?

Devil's claw is a leafy plant native to southern Africa and Madagascar. The name is derived from its fruits, which are covered with small protuberances that look like hooks.

Devil's claw also contains secondary storage roots, or tubers, that branch out from the plant's main roots. These tubers can reach a size of 20 centimeters long and three centimeters thick. Most herbal preparations come from the herb's tubers.

Devil's claw tubers contains three types of glycosides that are thought to reduce inflammation and promote wound healing. While research has not supported the use of devil's claw for arthritis, it is widely used as a remedy for that condition in Europe and elsewhere. Other studies have found the plant useful in reducing fever, rheumatism, low back pain and some degenerative musculoskeletal conditions.

Devil's claw is also considered incredibly bitter. As such, it has been used to stimulate the stomach in the production of acid, which helps improve digestion. The German Commission E has recommended that devil's claw can be used to treat loss of appetite and dyspepsia, and that it can support other therapies that treat degenerative disorders of the locomotor system.

How much devil's claw should I take?

To aid in digestion, 1.5-2.0 grams of powdered tuber per day are recommended. For arthritis, 4.5-10 grams per day are used. Some practitioners may recommend devil's claw extracts or tinctures.

What forms of devil's claw are available?

Devil's claw is available as whole or ground (powdered) root tubers. Dried devil's claw root can be used to make tea. Standardized tinctures and extracts are also available.

What can happen if I take too much devil's claw? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Because devil's claw promotes the production of stomach acid, anyone diagnosed with gastric or duodenal ulcers, heartburn, gastritis or excessive stomach acid should not use it. People with gallstones should also consult their health practitioner before taking devil's claw.

In addition, because devil's claw is cardioactive, it may interact with some heart medications. It should not be used by patients taking warfarin or ticlopidine. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking devil's claw or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Blumenthal M Busse W, Goldberg A, et al. (eds.) The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, pp. 120-21.
  • Chantre P, Cappelaere A, Leblan D, et al. Efficacy and tolerance of harpagophytum procumbens versus diacerhein in treatment of osteoarthritis. Phytomed 2000;7:177-83.
  • Chrubasik S, Zimpfer C, Schutt U, Ziegler R. Effectiveness of harpagophytum procumbens in treatment of acute low back pain. Phytomed 1996;3:1-10.
  • Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, pp. 208-10.
  • Schulz V, Hnsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine, 3rd ed. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1998.

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