Devil’s Claw also known as grapple plant, wood spider, Kamangu and many other local names, is a herbaceous perennial that stores water and nutrients in underground tubers in order to survive harsh climatic conditions, such as the deep sandy soils of the Kalahari and low rainfall. There are two species: Harpagophytum procumbens and Harpagophytum zeyheri, the latter grows in the North-Western and Eastern parts of Zimbabwe and is easily recognised by its large tube-shaped, deep mauve-pink flowers with a yellow and white throat, which open for only one day and are pollinated by bees. The first Westerner to “discover” Devil’s Claw was the German farmer G.H. Mehnert who learned about it from local people in Namibia in 1907. Its name Devil’s Claw is derived from the sharp, curved hooks protruding off the fruit. It propagates from underground tubers with prostrate stems that sprout in late spring from a primary tuber, and die back at the onset of the first cold fronts. The primary tuber extends into a deep taproot, with lateral, often horizontally growing, thick secondary roots. These secondary roots develop a chain of tubers that can grow up to 40 cm long.

What is it used for?

The indigenous San and Khoi peoples of Southern Africa have used Devil’s Claw medicinally for centuries, if not millennia. It has also been adopted by immigrating Bantu-speakers including the Shona peoples, who arrived in the Zimbabwe area between 1500 and 500 years ago. Research shows that these peoples traditionally use Devil’s Claw to treat indigestion, fever, blood diseases, urinary tract complaints, post-partum pains, sprains, sores, ulcers and boils. Given this extensive history of use as an anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, and digestive stimulant; nowadays the tuberous root is used for sure relief of joint pain caused by both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and it has also been shown to relieve muscle pain and enhance mobility for people with either arthritis or muscle injuries, such as tendonitis. It is taken as a tonic for kidney inflammation, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure and is effective in relieving severe lower back pain. Because improper digestion of protein plays a role in gout, causing uric acid buildup, this is a remedy tailor-made for people with gout. Products made with Devil’s Claw are increasingly being considered as alternatives to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAD), and are registered as herbal medicines in France and Germany, and as a food supplement in the UK, Netherlands, the USA and the Far East.