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Nutrient - Devilís Claw - A nutrient focus

(Harpagophytum procumbens)

By Jackie Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy

Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a plant of the sesame family, native to South Africa. Its name originates from the hooked fruit that gives it its strange appearance,and, while not a plant you would be likely to find nestling between the oregano and fenugreek; like these and other herbal plants, it does has wonderful medicinal uses. 

Spring has sprung and the daffodils and bluebells have pushed their way through the frosty earth to decorate thousands of gardens and allotments across the country and disappeared as quickly as they came, making way for the heady delights of summer. Keen gardeners everywhere are dusting off their wellies and venturing out between the weeds and broken plant pots to launch enthusiastically into the annual frenzy of digging and planting, hoping to fulfil dreams of an idyllic outdoor space.

Devil’s claw may not be a familiar sight in the gardens of England, but for many people, this amazing herb could prove to be very useful at this time of year. For those of us not used to outdoor pursuits, or with ongoing back problems, gardening brings with it not just immense pleasure, but often a lot of pain.

History and uses 

Devil’s claw was discovered in South Africa by European colonists in the 18th century and isused widely as a traditional herbal remedy.  The active ingredients in devil's claw root are iridoid glycosides (mainly harpagoside, harpagide and procumbide).In South Africa, the tuber is used for blood diseases, the relief of fevers, muscular aches and pains, and as an analgesic during pregnancy. In addition, the pulverized root is used as an ointment for ulcers, boils and for difficult births.  Infusions of the dried root are also commonly used as a cure for digestive disorders and to stimulate appetite. However, in Europe, it is more commonly used for the relief of backache, rheumatic or muscular pain and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints. 

Safety and efficacy 

Some studies suggest that it is as effective at reducing the pain associated with osteoarthritis as a conventional analgesic drug, but this has not been established for licensing purposes in Europe. The safety of devil’s claw during pregnancy and lactation has also not been established, so is not recommended. Patients with gastric or duodenal ulcer are also advised not to use devil’s claw. 

Even if gardening is not your thing, but you have decided to join the gym, or get fit in some other way, devil’s claw might be the antidote to a newly started and easily abandoned fitness regime. Many of us start out on a new exercise routine with a little too much enthusiasm and vigour and end up giving up within weeks. More often than not, this is because the sudden exertion has caused uncomfortable muscle and joint pain. 

So, whether it’s delving in the undergrowth or sweating on the treadmill, help is at hand. Taking devil’s claw may help to alleviate aches and pains, enabling you to continue with your hobby or prevent you from giving up on all your good intentions!

Article References

1) Bartram T. Bartramís Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 1998. 2)McGregor G, Fiebich B, Wartenberg A et al. Devilís Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): An Anti-Inflammatory Herb with Therapeutic Potential. Phytochemistry Reviews. 2004; Vol. 4. 47-53. 3) Grote K. The Increased Harvest and Trade of Devilís Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) and Its Impacts on the Peoples and Environment of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Report.2003. 4) Newall C, Anderson L and Phillipson J. Herbal Medicines. A guide for health-care professionals. 1996. 5)Warnock M, McBean D, Suter A et al. Effectiveness and safety of Devil's Claw tablets in patients with general rheumatic disorders. Phytotherapy Research. 2007; Vol 21. Issue 12. 1228-1233. 6) http://www.puritan.com/vf/healthnotes/hn_live/Herb/Devils_Claw.htm 7) http://www.underutilized-species.org/Documents/PUBLICATIONS/devils_claw.pdf

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