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Devil’s Claw | Herb of the Week
Devil’s claw, also known as grapple plant, wood spider, is a plant of the sesame family and is native to South Africa. It is a prostrate, sprawling perennial vine with trumpet shaped flowers and spiky seedpods. The plant’s large tuberous roots are used medicinally to reduce pain and fever, and to stimulate digestion.
G. H. Menhert, a German colonial soldier first learned about the devil’s claw in Namibia from healers of the San and Nama tribes people. He then became a farmer and let the public know about the benefits of the plant in 1904. In 1953, devil’s claw was first exported to Germany, and then was introduced into the European continent. During the 1970s, scientists demonstrated the plant’s efficacy as a treatment for arthritis.
Health Benefits of Devil’s Claw
The key components of devil’s claw are iridoid glycosisdes which are responsible for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is also considered as an analgesic, anti-arrhythmic, antibacterial, antirheumatic, bitter tonic, cholagogue, diuretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, laxative, sedative and utero-contractant.
Aborigines used devil’s claw for fevers, blood diseases, blood purification, bleeding gums, coughs, diabetes, diarrhea, gonorrhea, gout, lower back pain, lumbago and syphilis. It is also used to stimulate appetite, helps with conditions of the digestive system including heartburn, peptic ulcers and constipation, and helps with hypertension and high cholesterol. Devil’s claw is also used to treat diseases of the gall bladder, kidneys, liver, pancreas, small joints and tuberculosis. Used externally, devil’s claw can heal ulcers, boils, sores and wounds.
In the West, devil’s claw is used primarily to alleviate joint pain including arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. It is also used to reduce menopausal symptoms. A clinical study shows that devil’s claw may reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as other over-the counter or prescription drugs. The said study, a randomized, double-blind, parallel group study conducted in France, half of the patients received capsules containing the devil’s claw and the other half, a pharmaceutical drug. Pain measurements of all patients indicated that those taking the herb and the drug experienced similar benefits. However, the study also showed that patients taking the herb experienced significantly fewer adverse side effects than those taking the drug.
The safety of devil’s claw in the treatment of young children, pregnant and lactating women and those who are suffering from severe liver or kidney conditions are not yet known and it is best to avoid it completely. People with stomach ulcers or gastritis should also refrain from using the herb. People with gallstones should consult a medical practitioner before taking it. Devil’s claw can also react with existing drugs such as anticoagulants. Devil’s claw may also cause allergic reactions, diarrhea, nausea, headaches and ringing in the ears.