Devil’s Claw Benefits, Uses, and History

Devil’s claw is a plant native to South Africa that belongs to the sesame family. The scientific name for the plant is harpagophytum procumbens. It is commonly found in the south and southeast of Namibia, southern Botswana, and the Kalahari region of the Northern Cape.

The word harpagophytum comes from the Greek for hook plant. This is because the plant has long and spiky protrusions which can cause serious injuries for humans and animals alike. The seeds and fruits are covered in many tiny hooks, similar in appearance to claws. It is a perennial plant with roots and shoots that branch out from the main body of the plant. It has secondary roots, referred to as tubers, growing out of the main roots. This is the part of the plant that is used as a herbal medicine. 

Devil’s claw has a variety of alternate names. These include devil’s claw root, grapple plant, WS 1531, and wood spider. 

What are the benefits of devil’s claw?

The plant contains a compound known as iridoid glycosides. These have been proven to act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Other studies have suggested a correlation between the ingestion of devil’s claw and its antioxidant effects on the body. This potentially suggests that they can protect your cells against the damaging impacts of free radicals. 

Some studies suggest that devil’s claw can be used as a treatment for arthritis and gout. It has also been suggested that it can be used as a weight loss aid and a painkiller. 

Are there any dangers associated with devil’s claw?

As with anything that you consume, there is always the risk of potential interactions with other substances. This is commonly not much of an issue but can have very dangerous consequences if ignored. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a doctor or herbal practitioner before taking devil’s claw to ensure your safety. 

Provided you take the recommended quantity, and do not take it for a prolonged period, devil’s claw is considered safe. There are very few risks associated with it and the plant has been deemed non-toxic. If high doses are consumed then you may experience mild gastroenteric issues. 

Devil’s claw may potentially interact with blood-thinning medications. These include anticoagulants and antiplatelets such as aspirin, warfarin, and clopidogrel. This may increase your risk of bleeding. 

If you take medication to treat diabetes, we do not advise taking devil’s claw. It can reduce your blood sugar levels, which could be dangerous for diabetics. Devil’s claw may also counteract the effectiveness of antacids as it has been theorized it increases the quantity of stomach acid. 

It is not advised for people with duodenal or stomach ulcers, or those with gallstones, to take devil’s claw. This is because these conditions can be exacerbated by the herbal extract. There have been very few studies done into the safety of devil’s claw on pregnant and breastfeeding women. For this reason, it is not recommended for these women to consume devil’s claw. 

Devil’s claw should not be taken with any antiarrhythmic, chronotropic, or inotropic medications. This is because animal trials have shown a decreased heart rate and mild positive inotropic effects as a result of consuming devil’s claw. There have been rare instances where people have reacted adversely to the consumption of devil’s claw. This tends to present as headaches, tinnitus, and anorexia. In one instance, devil’s claw has been documented to induce hypertension. 

There is evidence to suggest that devil’s claw reduces the levels of sodium in your body. If you already suffer from low sodium levels, it may be wise to steer clear of devil’s claw. 

Devil’s claw can potentially cause diarrhea as a side effect. Other common side effects include vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, and loss of taste. In rare instances, it has been reported that menstrual problems, allergic skin reactions, and blood pressure changes have occurred as a result of consuming devil’s claw.

What is devil’s claw used for?

Devil’s claw is traditionally used as a treatment for muscular and rheumatic pain. It is also used to treat general muscular pain as well as backache. In France and Germany, it is a common treatment for the relief of arthritis pain, headaches, and lower lumbar pain. When devil’s claw was first grown in Europe, it was used as an appetite stimulant, heartburn relief, and a way to reduce pain and inflammation. 


Inflammation is a natural bodily response to trauma in the form of injuries or infections. It is an immune system response that is required to help protect your body. There is evidence to suggest that chronic inflammation increases your risk of developing brain disorders, heart disease, and diabetes. 

The iridoid glycosides mentioned earlier are what makes devil’s claw such an effective anti-inflammatory. In particular, one has been shown to reduce inflammation. This is known as harpagoside. During laboratory trials in mice, harpagoside repressed cytokine action in the body. These are inflammatory promoting molecules, thereby explaining the effectiveness of devil’s claw. 


There have been many studies done into the effects of devil’s claw on the quality of life of osteoarthritis sufferers. Participants were asked to take devil’s claw supplements for between 8 and 12 weeks to monitor the impacts. They reported that pain levels decreased and physical functioning improved. 

A study was conducted of 122 people comparing the impacts of devil’s claw to a leading European medication on pain levels. The participants reported similar levels of pain relief with both substances. Interestingly, those taking devil’s claw required less frequent pain relief and experienced far fewer side effects. 

For osteoarthritis treatments, studies have combined the intake of devil’s claw with turmeric and bromelain. Other studies used the product Rosaxan which contains devil’s claw, stinging nettle, vitamin D, and rosehip. 


Gout is a subtype of arthritis, which presents itself as painful swelling and redness in the knees, ankles, and toes. It is caused by a uric acid buildup in the blood and can be worsened by certain foods. Devil’s claw has been suggested as an alternative remedy for the symptoms of gout due to its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Rheumatic pain

Rheumatic diseases are those that impact the joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles. This type of pain is generally caused by autoimmune diseases, where your body’s immune system begins to attack itself. 

There was a study done on 259 patients with general rheumatic problems over the course of 8 weeks. The participants taking devil’s claw experienced reduced pain levels, stiffness, and increased limb function. The pain specifically decreased in their wrists, hands, shoulders, knees, elbows, hips, and back. Around 60% of the participants reduced or halted their pain-reducing medications. 

Back and neck pain

There is early research that suggests devil’s claw is an efficient treatment for lower lumbar and neck pain. Studies were done with 197 participants where half took devil’s claw and half took a placebo. The participants that took the devil’s claw had reduced pain levels and required fewer painkillers. 

Another study was undertaken over 54 weeks, comparing 35 people taking Vioxx (a pain relief medication also known as rofecoxib) to 38 people taking devil’s claw. The results showed that devil’s claw had equal levels of effectiveness as the mainstream medication. Since this study was conducted, the FDA has removed Vioxx from sale as it can increase the risk of cardiac problems. 

Weight loss aid

The body’s hunger cues are gained as a result of the hunger hormone ghrelin. It is released by your stomach to tell your brain that it is time for food. In laboratory mouse studies, the mice that consumed devil’s claw powder ate less food than those that consumed a placebo. This is believed to be as a result of devil’s claw slowing and suppressing the release of ghrelin.

There is no human evidence to support the use of devil’s claw as a weight loss aid. Despite this, many people believe that it has beneficial effects. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can be used as a treatment for obesity or for binge eating disorder (BED).


Devil’s claw has long been referred to as a powerful digestive tonic. This is due to the compounds known as flavonoids and phytosterols. These have antioxidant, choleretic, and antispasmodic properties which help to maintain your digestive health.

Choleretic means that it helps to stimulate the production of bile, helping to break down the food you ingest. This can have adverse effects on people who suffer from gallstones. Antispasmodic properties mean that the devil’s claw suppresses muscular spasms, which could cause acid reflux. It is also used as a treatment for heartburn for this reason.

Other potential uses for devil’s claw

There is insufficient evidence to prove the efficacy of devil’s claw on the conditions below, however, this does not mean that it can’t be used as a potential treatment.

One of the conditions is atherosclerosis, also known as the hardening of the arteries. It has also been theorized that it could be used as a treatment for fibromyalgia, high cholesterol, loss of appetite, dyspepsis, fever, dysmenorrhea, irregular periods, tendinitis, allergies, kidney disease, and bladder disease.

It can also be used to treat pleuritic chest pain – a sharp pain in the chest when you inhale or exhale. Dyspepsia is also referred to as indigestion, and dysmenorrhea is also known as period cramps. 

How should devil’s claw be taken?

It is available in many different forms. These include capsules, tablets, topical ointments, and liquid extracts. These can come from the fresh or dried roots of the plant. You can also steep a tea from the dried roots. You should look for the presence of harpagoside in the supplement that you choose.

In studies, daily doses of between 600 and 2,610 mg have been used as a treatment for back pain and osteoarthritis. This roughly equates to between 50 and 100 mg of harpagoside daily. This dosage has only been studied in a year of usage, and there is no information on the longer-term impacts. 

It is not recommended to give children devil’s claw. No studies have been conducted into the effectiveness or safety of it. This means that there is no guarantee that your child will be okay if they consume it.

If you are considering taking devil’s claw as a herbal medicine, we strongly advise you to contact your doctor. They will help you to determine the appropriate dosage for your age and genetic build. 

What is the history of devil’s claw?

Traditionally from Africa, the plant has been used in herbal remedies there for centuries. It has also played a key role in the culture of the Kalahari Desert. The people here are called the San Bushman, or Khoisan people. They have lived in the Kalahari Desert for at least 20,000 years according to the principles of hunting and gathering. 

There is little concept of land ownership and they live a predominantly Nomadic lifestyle. This means that their healers tend to be primarily women and from the same family or tribe. For centuries, the people there have used devil’s claw as a pain relief and digestive agent. The people here tend to consume devil’s root in the form of a tea made by steeping the fresh roots.

In the early 1900s, the medicinal properties of devil’s claw began to be explored by Western cultures. German soldier G.H. Mehnert learned about the plant from a natural healer during the Herero uprisings. 

In 1953, O.H. Volk introduced the plant to Europe for the first time as a treatment for metabolic diseases. Here, the roots were dried and used as herbal medicine. 

Historically, the tubers of the plant have been used as a fever, malaria, and pain treatment. It has also been used as a way to treat kidney and liver problems. As well as this, ointments made from devil’s claw are applied to boils, sores, and other skin problems. Some people have applied devil’s claw directly onto wounds to promote healing.