Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is an African plant whose fruit looks like a giant claw. The plant grows in an arid climate and is found in Namibia, Madagascar, the Kalahari Desert, and other areas on the African continent. The tuberous roots are used in traditional medicine. The root is collected when the rainy season ends. The root is chopped and dried in the sun for three days. Devil's claw is also known as grapple plant and wood spider.
Devil's claw has been used for numerous conditions in several areas of the world. In South Africa, the root and tuber have been used for centuries as an all-purpose folk remedy. Devil's claw has been used to reduce fever and pain, to treat allergies and headache, and to stimulate digestion. Traditional healers also used devil's claw to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, and lower back pain. Devil's claw has also been used as a remedy for liver and kidney disorders.
Devil's claw root was also used in folk medicine as a pain reliever and for complications with pregnancies. In addition, an ointment made from devil's claw was used for skin injuries and disorders.
European colonists brought the African plant back to their continent where it was used to treat arthritis. In the United States, use of devil's claw dates back to the time of slavery. The slaves brought herbs and herbal knowledge with them to the new continent.
Devil's claw has been used as an herbal remedy in Europe for a long time. Current uses for devil's claw are much the same as they were centuries ago. In Europe, the herb is still a remedy for arthritis and other types of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout (a painful joint inflammation disease).
Devil's claw is also used for soft tissue conditions with inflammation, like tendinitis and bursitis. The bitter herb is also used as a remedy for loss of appetite and mildly upset stomach.
The herb is currently used for other conditions such as problems with pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. Devil's claw is also regarded as a remedy for headaches, heartburn, liver and gallbladder problems, allergies, skin disorders, and nicotine poisoning.
European research during the late 1990s indicated that devil's claw relieved arthritis and joint pain conditions. The herb also helped with soft muscle pain such as tendinitis. However, there is no evidence that proves devil's claw is an effective remedy for other conditions such as difficulties during pregnancy and skin disorders.
Several forms of devil's claw are used. In Europe, doctors treat some conditions like arthritis with an injection of devil's claw extract. The herb is taken internally as a tea or in capsule form. When taken for pain relief, devil's claw must be taken regularly for up to one month before results are seen. An ointment form of devil's claw can be applied to the skin to treat wounds or scars.
Herbal tea and tincture
Devil's claw tea is prepared by pouring 1.25 cups (300 ml) boiling water over 1 tsp (4.5 g) of the herb. The mixture, which is also called an infusion, is steeped for eight hours and then strained. The daily dosage is 3 cups of warm tea.
For most conditions, the average daily dosage is 1 tsp (4.5 g) of devil's claw herb. However, the amount is reduced to 1/3 tsp (1.5 g) when devil's claw is taken for appetite loss.
In a tincture, the herb is preserved with alcohol. The tincture steeps for two weeks and is shaken daily. It is then strained and bottled. When devil's claw tincture is used as a remedy, the dosage is 1 tsp (4.5 g) taken three times per day for a specified period.
Tea and tincture should be consumed 30 minutes before eating. This allows for better absorption of the herb.
Devil's claw capsules
The anti-inflammatory properties of devil's claw are attributed to two constituents, harpagoside and beta sitoserol. If a person takes devil's claw capsules or tablets as a remedy, attention should be paid to the harpagoside content. The daily amount of harpagoside in capsules should total 50 mg.
For arthritis treatment, devil's claw can be combined with anti-inflammatory or cleansing herbs. In addition, devil's claw can be combined with bogbean or meadowsweet. An herbalist, naturopathic doctor, or traditional healer can provide more information on herb combinations appropriate for a specific condition.
Devil's claw is safe to use when proper dosage recommendations are followed, according to sources including the PDR (Physician's Desk Reference) for Herbal Medicines, the 1998 book based on the 1997 findings of Germany's Commission E.
Although devil's claw has not undergone the FDA research required for approval as a remedy, other studies in Europe confirm that devil's claw is safe for most people. However, people with ulcers should be cautious because the herb stimulates the production of stomach acid.
Furthermore, it is not known if devil's claw is safe for people with major liver or kidney conditions. In addition, devil's claw could cause an allergic reaction.
There is some debate in the alternative medicine community about whether pregnant women can use devil's claw as a remedy. Some researchers say that the herb is safe to use; others say that not enough research has been done to prove that the herb is safe for pregnant women. There appears to be no scientific proof that using devil's claw could result in miscarriages.
Devil's claw could cause an allergic reaction or mild gastrointestinal difficulties.
No interactions between other medications and devil's claw have been reported according to the PDR for Herbal Medicines. However, the herb may possibly block the effect of medication taken to correct abnormal heart rhythms.
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