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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Devil’s Claw  (Harpagophytum procumbens; Pedeliaceae)

Other Names: Wood Spider (2); Grapple plant  (6)

Character/Energetics: bitter  (2);   bitter, cool  (6)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  liver, stomach  (6);    liver, stomach, joints and kidneys  (14)

Part used:  Dried tubular secondary roots cut into slices or pieces or pulverized, and macerated thick      lateral tubers before they are dry.  These are very difficult to cut or pulverize when dry.  (2)

      Root (preferably secondary root)  (6)

Secondary tubers are the principal plant part used.    (61)

Identification & Harvesting:  Flowers are solitary, large and foxglove-like on short pedicles in the leaf axils.  Petals are pale-pink to crimson.  Seed capsules are 7-20 cm long, 6 cm in diameter, woody with a double row of elastic, arm-like, branched appendages with an anchor-like hook.  Capsules contain about 50 oblong, dark seeds with a rough surface.  Roots extend 1.5 m around plant and 30-60 cm deep.  Grows in South Africa and Namibia, spread throughout the Savannas and the Kalahari.  (2)

Grows in Namibia in arid conditions.  Roots are collected at the end of rainy season.  (8)

Grows wild, rarely cultivated;  large, colorful, red to purple trumpet-shaped flowers;  fruits armed with 1″ barbed thorns.  (38)

A shrubby vine in the pedalium family native to southwest Africa.  Most commercial supplies are wild-harvested from the Kalahari deserts and savannas of Namibia.     (61)

Active Constituents:  Iridoide monoterpenes:  incl. harpagoside (extremely bitter), harpagide, procumbide;  phenylethanol derivatives:  incl. acteoside (verbascoside), isoacteoside;  oligosaccharides:  stachyose;  trace harpagoquinones  (2)

Blycoside (sp?), harpagoside, harpagide, procumbine, sugar, stachyose  (6)

Harpagoside reduces inflammation in joints.  (8)

Contains bitter compounds on a par with Gentiana lutea. (Gentian)  (38)

The secondary tubers contain twice as much of the perceived active component, harpagoside, as the primary root, but studies have shown that other components are involved in its pain-relieving qualities.    (61)

Actions:  appetite stimulant, choleretic, antiphlogistic, and mild analgesic  (2);  anti‑inflammatory,        antirheumatic  (6);  anodyne, procumbine  (8); alterative, discutient, lithotriptic, stimulant  (14); 

 anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, analgesic, sedative, diuretic, liver stimulant  (15);           anti-inflamatory, antiviral (22);  astringent, sedative, pain-killing  (38)

Studies confirm anti-inflammatory activity, though clinical trials have given mixed results on the herb’s effectiveness for relieving inflammatory pain.  Animal studies indicate extracts of the tubers may act on heart muscle.    (61)

Conditions & Uses: Used internally for dyspepsia, liver and gallbladder complaints, rheumatism, and for support therapy of degenerative disorders of the locomotor system.  Root is used as an ointment for skin injuries and disorders;  dried root for pain relief and for pregnancy complaints.  (2)

Devil’s claw treats arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, stomach disorders. (6)

Mainly used for gout, rheumatism, arthritis.  It is a blood cleanser and will remove deposits in the joints and aid in elimination of uric acid from the body.  Acid conditions:  decoction, powder, fluid extract.  Arthritis:  decoction, powder, fluid extract.  Blood purifier:  decoction*, powder*, fluid extract*.  Gout:  decoction, powder, fluid extract.  Rheumatism:  decoction, powder, fluid extract.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.  (14)

Potent anti-inflammatory;  action has been compared with cortisone.  Better for osteoarthritis and degenerative conditions than for rheumatoid arthritis.  (15)

This plant has found its main use in the treatment of arthritis. This action appears due to the prescence of a glycoside called harpagoside that reduces inflammation in the joints. The plant also acts as a hepatic in treating liver and gall bladder problems. (22)

Spondylosis, neuralgia, digestive problems involving gall bladder and pancreas.  (38)

The tubers were highly prized by African Bushmen, Hottentots and Bantu as a bitter tonic for indigestion.  Also used for fever, as a blood purifier, and to relieve rheumatic and arthritic pain.  A small amount was given near delivery of a baby to help relieve the mother’s pain.  A fresh ointment was applied to the abdomen of women anticipating a difficult birth.  Externally, it was also used for boils, sores, ulcers, and as a folk cancer remedy.    (61)

Combinations:  May be combined with celery seed, bogbean or meadowsweet in treatment of arthritis.(8)

Combine with equal amounts of tinctures of other anti-inflammatories or cleansing herbs, such as angelica, St. Johnswort, bogbean, or celery seed.  (15)

Precautions:  Should not be used with stomach or duodenal ulcers, due to the herb’s stimulation of          gastric juice secretion.  No health risks or side effects associated with designated dosages.           Has a sensitizing effect.  (2)

Avoid in cases of gastric or duodenal ulcers.  Animal studies show relatively low toxicity.  Given its potential effect on heart muscle, use cautiously and under medical supervision in cases of heart disease.  Avoid during pregnancy and lactation.    (61)          

DEVIL’S CLAW  (Harpagophytum procumbens; Pedeliaceae)

Tincturing Process: Michael Moore says make strong Devil’s Claw Root tincture.

      Vita Mix: Speed 5. Fill just above blades in VM container. Process 60 seconds.

                    Tincturing ratio–6 gr herb: 1 oz menstruum. 50% alcohol. (1a)

Applications:  Infusion — 1 tsp ground herb (4.5 g) with 300 ml boiling water; steep 8 hrs and strain.  (2)

Decoction — put 1/2-1 tsp into a cup of water, boil and simmer 10-15 min, 3 x daily.  Continue for 1 month.  Tincture — 1-2 ml 3 x daily.  (8)

Infusion — steep 30 min, 1-2 cups daily.  Decoction — simmer 15 min, 6 oz. 3 x daily.  Tincture — 30-60 drops 3 x daily.  Fluid extract — 1/2 to 1 tsp 3 x daily.  Powder — 2-3 #0 capsules (15-30 grains) 3 x daily.  (14)

Up to 3 g. capsules daily.  For indigestion, steep 1/4 tsp dried tuber in a cup of hot water for 10-15 min.  Tincture 30 drops 3 x daily.    (61)


Dosage:   For loss of appetite, recommended dosage is 1.5 g;  otherwise 4.5 g;  3 x daily.  (2)

  Powder, tsp. is taken three times daily; tincture, 10‑30 drops four times a day; standard dosage in formulas, 3‑9 gms.  (6);  1-3 g powder a day in capsule form during acute phase;  up to 15 ml tincture a day, or use in combinations.  (15);  20 to 40 drops 2-3x daily, 10 minutes before meals. Best if used continuously for one month  (22)

General Notes: Lowers high cholesterol.  Efforts to isolate and prescribe only the most active compound, harpagoside, have been fruitless.  It seems that all the active ingredients contained within the tuberous roots work as a whole, and not by themselves.  Leave it to Mother Nature to provide the right remedy in the right ratio.  (1)    

Remarkable in the percentage of arthritics that benefit from its use, in that it far outdoes most convention medical application in this respect.  (1b)

Not always effective  (8)   

Studies of effects of devil’s claw on arthritic conditions rely on injections, which go right into the bloodstream without passing through the stomach.  Herb loses potency in the stomach.  (56)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, The Healthy Cell News, Fall ’98, p. 9

(1a) ibid  “Devil’s Claw Root)” Tincture file

(1b) Nature’s Field, Aug. 1995

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 888-89

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 230

(8) The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 196

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, p. 112-13

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, 130-31, 180

(22) Herbs and Herbal Formulas (booklet) by Mark Hershiser, pg. 8

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, p 291

(56) The Green Pharmacy  by James A. Duke, Ph.D, p. 224

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 66-67


PHOTO: Wikipedia