devil's claw

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating System

What Is It?

The deserts of southern Africa are home to the peculiar-looking devil's claw plant (Harpagophytum procumbens), so named because of the distinctively shaped tips of its fruits. For years, people indigenous to the African continent dug up the plant's large tuberous roots, chopped them up, and let them dry in the sun. From the dried roots, they then prepared healing formulations to treat arthritis, fever, indigestion, and a number of other conditions.

After European and North American colonists in Africa were introduced to the herb in the 1950s, it began to be examined for its chemical properties and healing potential. Today many herbalists consider devil's claw effective in treating the aching and stiffness of arthritic joints.

Health Benefits

It remains unclear just how devil's claw works to reduce Inflammation and pain. Nonetheless, the popularity of devil's claw persists, and side effects appear to be minimal. Many herbalists continue to recommend this ancient African remedy.

Specifically, devil's claw may help to: 

Lessen arthritis-related discomforts. A handful of studies support the use of devil's claw for easing the inflammation and pain that often afflict people with arthritis. Mild pain relief and a lessening of inflammation was noted in a 1976 study that compared the devil's claw with the effects of a then common arthritis drug (phenylbutazone). A 1992 study in which participants took devil’s claw capsules for 21 days failed to find that the herb provided anti-inflammatory actions similar to the ones a person would experience with standard medications. (1)

However, in a recent review of 14 studies from 1966­­â€”2006 data from higher quality studies suggested devil’s claw is effective in relieving pain associated with arthritis. It was determined that further clinical studies are necessary to confirm whether devil’s claw is an effective and safe treatment for arthritis. (2) Another recent review of devil’s claw studies found several animal, clinical and in vitro studies with supporting evidence of the herb’s inflammatory and analgesic properties. (3) 

The effectiveness of devil’s claw in treating arthritis is related to a specific extract of the herb called harpagoside. A supplement preparation containing at least 50 mg of harpagoside in a daily dose is recommended to relieve pain. Additionally, devil’s claw has been shown to have fewer adverse side effects than conventional medications. (4) And some evidence shows once patients begin taking devil’s claw, they can decrease use of NSAIDs for pain relief. (5) 

In parts of Europe, extracts of the herb are sometimes injected around an arthritic joint. Swelling reportedly subsides as a result. Injection formulas may be hard to get in the United States, however.

Ease lower back pain. The anti-inflammatory properties of devil’s claw also can help ease lower back pain. Two high-quality trials using an extract of devil’s claw to treat lower back pain found strong evidence for short-term improvements in pain – more so than a placebo. The supplement preparations in each trial contained either 50 mg or 100 mg of harpagoside in a daily dose, as well as 12.5 mg rofecoxib (Vioxx). (6-9) 

Stimulate appetite and control indigestion. Preliminary evidence suggests that devil’s claw is inactivated by stomach acid and may help control indigestion. (10) Sipped periodically over several days, a strong boiled tea (decoction) of the devil's claw root, which contains powerful bitter-tasting substances, helps to perk up the appetite and soothe digestive problems. Folk healers in Africa continue to recommend it highly for these purposes. 

In addition, German health authorities consider this type of strong tea effective for treating discomforts due to peptic ulcers and for countering appetite loss.


  • Tincture
  • liquid powder
  • liquid
  • dried herb/tea
  • capsule

Dosage Information

Special tip:

--Look for a product standardized to contain 3% iridoid glycosides, the active ingredient in devil's claw.

For arthritis-related discomfort: Taking 2250 mg daily (as one 750 mg capsule three times a day) of a standardized 3% glycoside product would provide 67 mg of the active ingredient used in clinical studies.

For appetite loss, indigestion, and heartburn: Prepare a strong, boiled tea and drink 1 cup (8 ounces) before every meal for a maximum of 3 cups a day. To make this tea, boil 1 teaspoon of finely chopped or powered dry root in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes (some of the water will boil away); strain and allow to cool.

Guidelines for Use

The quality of devil's claw preparations appears to vary widely, so buy the herb from a source that you trust.

General Interaction

There appears to be a risk of increased bleeding when devil's claw is taken together with anticoagulant drugs (blood-thinners), such as warfarin (coumadin) and heparin.

Possible Side Effects

  • Devil's claw has been used for centuries in parts of Africa, but information on side effects is still scanty. Some studies have reported occasional mild stomach upset, ringing in the ears, and headache.

  • Based on the findings of studies in small animals, there is a small risk of heart rhythm and blood pressure changes with devil's claw. It's not clear whether this effect on the heart occurs in humans.

  • Cautions

  • Because so much remains to be learned about the effect of devil's claw in the body, it's probably best to consult your doctor before taking it if you have ulcers, gallstones, or a heart problem.

  • Don't take devil's claw during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.
  • Evidence Based Rating Scale 

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.






















    Several animal, clinical and in vitro studies of varying quality  have shown efficacy in treating pain and inflammation.









    Back pain










    A couple studies have shown efficacy, but the reporting of trials was generally poor. More research is needed to confirm or refute these initial findings.










    Preliminary evidence shows some efficacy. More research is needed to confirm these initial findings.



    1.    Moussard C, Alber D, Toubin MM, Thevenon N, Henry JC. A drug used in traditional medicine, harpagophytum procumbens: no evidence NSAID-like effect on whole blood eicosanoid production in human. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1992 Aug;46(4):283-6.

    2.    Brien S, Lewith GT, McGregor G. Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) as a treatment for osteoarthritis: a review of efficacy and safety. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Dec;12(10): 981-3.

    3.    Grant L, McBean DE, Fyfe L, Warnock AM. A review of the biological and potential therapeutic actions of Harpagophytum procumbens. Phytother Res. 2007 mar;21(3):199-209.

    4.    Chrubasik S. [Devil’s claw extract as an example of the effectiveness of herbal analgesics]. Orthopade. 2004 Jul;33(7):804-8.

    5.    Chantre P, Cappelaere A, Lebian D, et al. Efficacy and tolerance of Harpagophytum procumbens versus diacerhein in treatment of osteoarthritis. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:177-84.

    6.    Gagnier JJ, van Tulder MW, Berman B, Bombardier C. Herbal medicine for low back pain: a Cochrane review. Spine. 2007 Jan1;32(1):82-92.

    7.    Chrubasik S, Thanner J, Kunzel O, et al. Comparison of outcome measures during treatment with the p
    Date Published: 04/18/2005

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