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What is Devil's Claw?

C. Ausbrooks
C. Ausbrooks

Devil's claw, also known as grapple plant or wood spider, is a perennial shrub native to the desert regions of South Africa. It is a member of the family Pedaliaceae, which contains plants characterized by mucilaginous hairs covering their leaves and stems. The plant's name derives from its fruit, which is covered with tiny hooks, or devil's claws. The shrub also produces lush foliage and bright, showy red flowers. Its roots and tubers have been used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years, and are still used today for a variety of medicinal purposes.

Historically, the people of Madagascar and the Kalahari Desert have used the root of devil's claw to treat pain, skin problems such as boils and sores, and complications during pregnancy. The herb was introduced to Europe sometime in the early 1900s, where it was used to treat indigestion, inflammation and poor appetite. In modern times, devil's claw is most commonly used for treating rheumatism, osteoarthritis and back pain. It is sometimes prescribed by herbal healers as an appetite stimulant or digestive tonic, and to treat upset stomach, headaches, fever and even allergies. Topical preparations are also still used to heal boils, sores and other minor skin abrasions.

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Devil's claw root contains high concentrations of iridoid glycosides, or secondary metabolites found in many plants. These substances are believed to have strong anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. The herb is widely used in Europe for treating inflammatory joint disorders and related pain. Although scientific proof of its efficacy is lacking, there exists a wealth of folkloric information indicating the plant's ability to treat these problems.

The recommended dosage of devil's claw as a home herbal remedy is two to seven drops of standardized liquid extract or 10 to 30 drops of liquid tincture dissolved in water three times per day. An herbal decoction can be made by boiling 1 tsp (4 gm) of the dried root in 1 cup (237 ml) of water for 15 to 20 minutes, and then straining out the herbal material. The decoction can be consumed up to three times per day, as necessary.

Although devil's claw is usually considered safe for internal consumption and few side effects have been reported, individuals taking prescription drugs should be cautious. The herb may interact negatively with blood thinning medications, ACE inhibitors, diuretics, beta blockers, diabetes medications, and other herbs known or believed to thin the blood. Women who are pregnant or nursing should also avoid taking devil's claw. There have been reports of headache, diarrhea and upset stomach amongst patients taking the herb, but these side effects appear to be uncommon.

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