Devils Claw

Harpagophytum procumbens – Devil’s claw

Family: Pedaliaceae (Sesame family)

Common names

  • Devil’s claw
  • Harpago
  • Grapple plant
  • Wool- and woodspider
  • Duivelsklou
  • Bobbejaandubbeltjie
  • Kloudoring
  • Veldspinnakop
  • Teufelskralle
  • Trampelklette
  • Sengaparile
  • Kanako
  • Lekgagamare
  • Ghamaghoe
  • Tloutaxaba
  • Otjihangatene

Description

Devil’s claw is a herb. The botanical name, Harpagophytum, means “hook plant” in Greek. This plant, which is native to Africa, gets its name from the appearance of its fruit, which is covered with hooks meant to attach onto animals in order to spread the seeds. The roots and tubers of the plant are used to make medicine.

The flowers are trumpet-shaped and range in colour from dark velvety red or purple to pink while the tube base and mouth are yellowish; they can be all yellow, all purple or white.

The plants flower mainly from about November to April (summer) and have fruits from about January.

 Distribution

Harpagophytum procumbens is found in most of Namibia, except the far northern, northeastern and western parts, Botswana and South Africa. In the last it grows in the provinces of North-West, western Free State and Northern Cape.

 Cultural value

Harpagophytum procumbens is one of the chief medicinal plants that South Africa has given the world. It has multiple medicinal uses.

For thousands of years, the Khoisan people of the Kalahari Desert have used the devil’s claw root in herbal remedies.

Devil’s claw is used most commonly for rheumatism, arthritis, gout, general pain relief and other degenerative disorders of the musculoskeletal system. It is also used for liver, gallbladder and stomach complaints and loss of appetite.

Topically it is used as an ointment for skin injuries and disorders.

It apparently works like cortisone but without the bad side effects of that drug. In its local areas, and increasingly elsewhere, it has also been used for fever, blood diseases, blood purification, lower back pain and pain in pregnant women, coughs, diarrhoea, diabetes, bleeding gums, syphilis, gonorrhoea, gout and lumbago. It also helps with diseases of the liver, gall bladder, kidneys, pancreas, digestive system (heartburn, peptic ulcers, constipation and lack of appetite) and small joints, as well as hypertension, high cholesterol and tuberculosis.

Externally it helps heal ulcers, boils, skin lesions and wounds

Growing Harpagophytum procumbens

Little is known about cultivating devil’s claw and, as yet, it is not used in gardens. This is a pity and it should be tried for its beauty, let alone its medicinal properties

The plants do not seem to like competition from other plants.

Plant tubors out in October and November (early summer), 0.1 m deep and 0.5 m apart. First prepare the ground by clearing away all other vegetation in a strip 3 m wide, alternating with the same width of uncleared ground, that will act as a windbreak. Little fertilizer and water are needed. In fact, over watering may lead to fungus problems. The only pests to worry about are animals eating the tubers. Flowers should appear in about the second summer after planting out. Wait 4 years for the first harvest when each plant should yield about 2 kg of fresh or ± 0.3 kg dry tuber.