From their large, reddish flowers form claw-shaped fruits that hang on the fur of animals and thus ensure the spread of the plant. At the foothills of a thick main root so-called secondary tubers form. They are the ones that contain the most active ingredients and are used medicinally. The African devil claw is dependent on hot climate and sandy soil, it can not be cultivated in other climates.
Due to its limited availability, the coveted medicinal plant is now among the endangered species. A plant in the family of the bellflower plants, which also occurs in Europe, also called devil's claw, has nothing to do with Harpagophytum procumbens and is medically irrelevant.
The most important active ingredients in the devil's claw include the harpagosides. They have analgesic, anti-inflammatory and regulate influence on heart rhythm and blood pressure. The plant also contains flavonoids, acteoside, unsaturated fatty acids, cinnamic and chlorogenic acids.
Extract from the devil's claw root helps to treat inflammatory rheumatic complaints, arthritic joint pain, chronic back pain and tendonitis (for example tennis elbow). Studies have shown that the inhibition of inflammation by Harpagophytum procumbens takes place in a different way than with the use of conventional antirheumatics. Certain pain-inducing or enhancing endogenous messengers also appear to block the devil's claw or inhibit its production.
Traditionally, the plant is also used for gastrointestinal complaints, loss of appetite, indigestion such as diarrhea, flatulence or constipation, as well as problems of the urinary organs. The contained bitter substances promote saliva production and digestive activity and thus stimulate the appetite. They lower the pH in the stomach and stimulate the bile (called the choleretic effect).
The devil's claw also has a blood thinning effect. For patients with atherosclerosis, this is a welcome effect, but for people with bleeding, it is a risk factor that must be taken into account, especially in high-dose or long-term use. In case of existing gastric ulcers, one should completely abstain from taking it, in pregnancy at least increased caution is required (there are still insufficient studies available).
The use of devil's claw root can - depending on the indication - be done internally and externally. It is taken as a tea, as a self-tincture or as a finished preparation in the form of capsules, tablets or powder. Such finished preparations are probably the most common variant and available almost everywhere, from the pharmacy to the food discounter. It should be noted here the different high active ingredient content and the correspondingly different potency of the dry extract preparations.
In addition to the internal intake, tea brew or diluted tincture are also suitable for external use for envelopes, baths and washes. Also common are ointment preparations with the active ingredients of devil's claw. They help with chronic skin problems, eczema, psoriasis and even poorly healing wounds.
Here in 1930 the botanist Otto Heinrich Volk began with the pharmaceutical research of the plant. With the findings about the therapeutic effect of the devil's claw, the worldwide demand for such preparations has steadily increased. A veritable overexploitation of the wild plant began, so that it was soon threatened decimated.
Today, the plant is only degraded controlled. Just remove the thick side roots and let the plant regenerate for several years in peace. Although the stock is better protected, global demand can not be covered by natural resources. Attempts are being made to cultivate the devil's claw outside of Africa - a difficult task so far with only limited chances of success.
The role of devil's claw root in the prevention and treatment of various ailments depends on the individual's clinical picture. According to clinical studies, their effects on chronic joint inflammation are better than on acute inflammatory processes. While she can usually only supportive function in the treatment of severe pain, she comes in lighter complaints quite as a sole remedy in question.
Especially chronic pain patients are often grateful for such alternatives from nature, which help to save chemical medications. Unpleasant side effects and long-term sequelae can be avoided or at least significantly reduced. However, Harpagophytum procumbens is not suitable for the treatment of acute or severe pain because it lasts between two and four weeks until the desired effect begins.
Classic homeopathy also uses the healing power of the African devil's claw, typically in potencies from D2 to D6. Main fields of application are osteoarthritis and disc problems. Gout, ankylosing spondylitis, as well as skin diseases such as shingles are also among the areas of application.