Devil’s claw refers to a genus of plants in the sesame family that are native to Africa. Its common name is a reference to its sprawling foliage that seems to creep along the ground and the claw-like structure of its fruit, which is covered with tiny bracts or hooks. In fact, the genus name, Harpagophytum, literally means “hooked plant.” Other names for this herb include grapple plant, unicorn plant, wood spider and elephant tusks.
Since the early 20th century, Europeans have used the bitter roots and secondary tubers of the plant to enhance digestion. Devil’s claw also has a long history of use in treating pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, muscle pain and headache. It is widely prescribed in France and Germany today to counter inflammation. The German Commission E officially approves the use of devil’s claw preparations to stimulate appetite and improve digestion. Devil’s claw root is usually prepared as tea, tincture or extract. It is also available in capsule or tablet form.
The primary active constituent in devil’s claw is harpagoside, which has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in several studies. One study found that supplementation with devil’s claw worked as well to relieve pain as the pharmaceutical drug rofecoxib (Vioxx), which has been removed from the market due to adverse effects on the heart.
Potential Side Effects
Because devil’s claw increases the production of stomach acid, it should not be used by people with a history of peptic ulcers or other gastrointestinal disorders without first consulting a health care practitioner. Compounds in this herb may also interfere with the anticoagulant and antiplatelet medications, warfarin and ticlopidine.