A powerful anti-inflammatory, devil’s claw is typically used as a natural remedy for back pain and joint issues. Discover the other benefits of devil’s claw in our in-depth guide.
Devil’s claw is native to southern Africa, but this traditional herbal remedy has become popular around the world for treating joint and back pain.
As one of the better-studied herbs, devil’s claw even has some support from mainstream medicine, especially in Germany, where it has been approved for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
You’ve most likely come across devil’s claw if you’ve been looking for natural treatments for lower back pain. However, the benefits of this dessert-dwelling plant don’t stop there. Devil’s claw has a long history of use as herbal medicine and is thought to help with anything from wound healing and digestive health to gout and weight loss.
What Is Devil’s Claw?
Devil’s claw is a leafy perennial that is native to several countries in southern Africa. It can thrive even in challenging conditions, preferring dry and sandy soil. It even grows in the Kalahari Dessert.
The plant’s scientific name is Harpagophytum procumbens but other colloquial names include grapple plant and wood spider. These names all come from the strange woody fruit produced by devil’s claw, which is covered in hooked spines.
Well before it was discovered by the Western world in the early 20th century, devil’s claw was prized by the San and Khoi people of the Kalahari Desert. Used to treat pain, fever, wounds, and indigestion, the plant caught the attention of a German soldier named Mehnert.
Mehnert introduced devil’s claw to the West as a tea, which continues to be a popular way to enjoy this herbal remedy today.
The plant’s root tubers are the part most prized by herbal practitioners. These tubers contain a variety of compounds called iridoid glycosides, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
The Benefits of Devil’s Claw
1. Back Pain
One of the best-known benefits of devil’s claw is its ability to soothe lower back pain. This is a common issue, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer.
Devil’s claw helps lower back pain in two ways. Firstly, it is packed with anti-inflammatory compounds that can help to ease symptoms if your pain is caused by inflammation. Secondly, devil’s claw contains a compound called harpagoside that acts as a natural pain killer.
As well as easing lower back pain, devil’s claw may help with neck pain for the same reasons.
With all those anti-inflammatory compounds, it is no surprise that devil’s claw is also a popular herbal treatment for arthritic conditions, such as osteoarthritis.
According to the leading arthritis charity, Versus Arthritis, devil’s claw may be as effective as conventional medicine for osteoarthritis. Taking the herb regularly may help to reduce joint inflammation, easing the hip and knee pain associated with this condition.
Another form of arthritis that can be treated with devil’s claw is gout. As with osteoarthritis and back pain, the plant’s ability to ease pain and reduce inflammation is great news for gout sufferers.
In addition to relieving the symptoms of gout, some researchers suggest that devil’s claw might also help to treat the cause. Gout is associated with a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Devil’s claw might help to combat this build-up, although more research is needed.
One of the traditional uses of devil’s claw is in treating digestive issues like indigestion. Like many bitter herbs, devil’s claw helps to stimulate the gastric juices, giving your digestive system a boost and helping to move food through your gut faster.
Again, devil’s claw’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties might also help if you are suffering from gut pain, or from inflammatory conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
5. Wound Healing
Although few scientific studies have focused on devil’s claw for wound healing, this is one of the traditional uses of this herb. We do know that it has antimicrobial properties, which may help to keep wounds clean and free from infection.
Devil’s claw also acts as a natural painkiller and is traditionally used as a herbal treatment for fevers, both of which might be useful when speeding up wound healing.
6. Weight Loss
Finally, a less traditional use of devil’s claw is in supporting weight loss. It appears to suppress our appetite, which could help if you are trying to follow a calorie-restricted diet.
This effect on our appetites comes from devil’s claw’s interaction with a hormone called ghrelin. Known as the hunger hormone, ghrelin signals to our bodies that it’s time to eat. But devil’s claw may reduce our sensitivity to this hormone.
Is Devil’s Claw Safe?
For most people, devil’s claw is safe. It can interact with certain medicines, however, so check with your doctor before taking it if you’re on medication or have an existing medical condition.
Devil’s claw hasn’t been studied during pregnancy or breastfeeding, which means you may want to avoid it during these stages. People with gastric or duodenal ulcers should also avoid devil’s claw.
Some people find that taking devil’s claw causes mild stomach upset. If you notice this happening to you, stop taking the devil’s claw and the symptoms should go away.
How to Take Devil’s Claw
Devil’s claw is available in many forms now, including powders and tablets. However, the most traditional way to take this herbal remedy is in the form of a tea.
Some people find that devil’s claw can be too bitter to enjoy on its own. We like to use it as part of a herbal tea blend instead, which is why it is one of the ingredients in our NutraBone tea – a blend designed to support joint and bone health.