What You Need to Know About Devil's Claw

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What is Devil's Claw?

Other Names: Harpagophytum procumbens, Grapple Plant, Wood Spider

Devil's claw is a plant native to southern Africa. Its name comes from the small hooks on the plant's fruit. The active ingredients in devil's claw are believed to be iridoid glycosides called harpagosides, which are found in the secondary root.

Most of the world's supply of devil's claw comes from Namibia, with lesser amounts coming from South Africa and Botswana.

Uses For Devil's Claw

Devil's claw a history of use as a folk remedy in Africa for fever, rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, and conditions involving the gallbladder, pancreas, stomach and kidneys.

In the early 1900's, devil's claw was brought to Europe. It is used as a folk remedy to improve digestion, as the bitter taste of devil's claw tea is thought to stimulate digestive juices.

Currently, devil's claw is considered alternative medicine, purported to help conditions that cause inflammation and pain:

Health Benefits of Devil's Claw

There is currently a lack of clinical trials testing the effects of devil's claw. However, some preliminary evidence suggests that devil's claw may offer certain health benefits. A German study examined the use of devil's claw for slight to moderate back, neck, and shoulder muscle tension and pain.

In the 4-week study, 31 people took 480 mg twice a day and 32 people took a placebo. The results showed there was a significant reduction in pain in the people taking devil's claw compared to the placebo group.

A study published in the journal Rheumatology compared a devil's claw extract providing 60 mg harpagosides a day and 12.5 mg a day of an anti-inflammatory medication for 6 weeks in 79 patients with an acute exacerbation of low back pain.

Devil's claw was as effective as the medication in reducing pain.

A study published in the journal Joint Bone Spine compared six 435 mg capsules of powdered devil's claw extract a day (which provides about 60 mg per day of harpagosides) with 100 mg a day of a European osteoarthritis drug called diacerhein in 122 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. After four months, devil's claw was as effective as the diacerhein at relieving pain, improving mobility, and reducing the need for back-up medication (such as anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs). A subsequent three-year placebo-controlled study found diacerhein was ineffective at reducing osteoarthritis symptoms.

In a European Journal of Anaesthesiology 4-week study, 197 people with back pain rated at 5/10 or higher on a pain scale received a standardized daily dose of 50 mg or 100 mg harpagosides or placebo. Devil's claw seemed to reduce pain more than placebo.

Proponents suggest that devil's claw may produce changes in leukotrienes, a group of molecules involved in inflammation.


  • Devil's claw should not be used by people with gastric or duodenal ulcers.
  • People with gallstones should consult a doctor before using devil's claw.
  • People with diabetes or who are taking medication that affects their blood sugar should only use devil's claw under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner. In one study, devil's claw extract resulted in reductions in blood glucose in fasted normal and diabetic animals.
  • Devil's claw should not be used by people who are or may be pregnant, as it is believed to cause uterine contractions.

This is a partial list of drugs that may interact with devil's claw. Consult your physician if you are taking any medication and considering using devil's claw.

Devil's claw has been known to trigger an allergic reaction.

Some studies have reported stomach upset, a sensation of fullness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and headache.

In animal studies, there is a small risk of changes in blood pressure, heart rhythm, and blood glucose. One study found that it enhanced the action of GABA in the brain and depressed the central nervous system. It is not known whether these effects may also occur in humans.

Devil's claw supplements haven't been tested for safety and keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of devil's claw, talk with your primary care provider first. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.


Chrubasik S et al. "A randomized double-blind pilot study comparing Doloteffin and Vioxx in the treatment of low back pain." Rheumatology (Oxford). 42.1 (2003):141-8.

Chrubasik S et al. "Effectiveness of Harpagophytum extract WS 1531 in the treatment of exacerbation of low back pain: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study." European Journal of Anaesthesiology. 16.2 (1999):118-29.

Dougados M et al. "Evaluation of the structure-modifying effects of diacerein in hip osteoarthritis: ECHODIAH, a three-year, placebo-controlled trial. Evaluation of the Chondromodulating Effect of Diacerein in OA of the Hip." Arthritis and Rheumatism. 44.11 (2001):2539-47.

Gagnier JJ et al. "Herbal medicine for low back pain." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 19.2 (2006):CD004504.

Gobel H et al. "Effects of Harpagophytum procumbens LI 174 (devil's claw) on sensory, motor und vascular muscle reagibility in the treatment of unspecific back pain." Schmerz. 15.1 (2001):10-8.

Huang TH et al. "Harpagoside suppresses lipopolysaccharide-induced iNOS and COX-2 expression through inhibition of NF-kappaB activation." Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 104.1-2 (2006):149-55.

Leblan D et al. "Harpagophytum procumbens in the treatment of knee and hip osteoarthritis. Four-month results of a prospective, multicenter, double-blind trial versus diacerhein." Joint Bone Spine. 67.5 (2000):462-7.

Mahomed IM and Ojewole JA. "Anticonvulsant activity of Harpagophytum procumbens DC [Pedaliaceae] secondary root aqueous extract in mice." Brain Research Bulletin. 69.1 (2006):57-62.

Mahomed IM and Ojewole JA. "Analgesic, antiinflammatory and antidiabetic properties of Harpagophytum procumbens DC (Pedaliaceae) secondary root aqueous extract." Phytotherapy Research. 18.12 (2004):982-9.

Stewart KM and Cole D. "The commercial harvest of devil's claw (Harpagophytum spp.) in southern Africa: the devil's in the details Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 100.3 (2005):225-36.

Wegener T and Lupke NP. "Treatment of patients with arthrosis of hip or knee with an aqueous extract of devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens DC.)." Phytotherapy Research. 17.10 (2003):1165-72.

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