Harpagophytum procumbens

Harpagophytum procumbens                 Common name: Devils Claw

Parts used:  Tuber (secondary roots)

Constituents: Iridoid glycosides [mainly harpagoside (1.4%-2.0%), harpagide, procumbide], Flavonoids, Phenolic acids, Harpagoquinone, Phytosterols [beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol], sugars

Medicinal actions: Anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, analgesic, sedative, antioxidant

Medicinal use: Devils claw is used in the treatment of arthritis, and has significant anti-inflammatory activity. Other actions of Harpagophytum that aid in its anti-arthritic application are its analgesic and vasodilatory effects. Can be used in tendonitis and to treat degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal system.

Pharmacology:  Anti-inflammatory effect varies with the route of administration and nature of the condition (acute or subacute). The pharmacokinetics of devil’s claw and the iridoid glycosides have not been established. Indeed, there is some controversy on the action of the stomach or acid hydrolysis on the extract and its active ingredients.  Some authors suggest that the substances obtained after acid hydrolysis, especially harpagogenin, are the active compounds producing the anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties, whereas other studies suggest that the extract, and harpagoside in particular, may be partially inactivated by the acid milieu of the stomach.

Most NSAIDs act by inhibiting prostaglandin biosynthesis. Both in vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated that devil’s claw has minimal effects on production of these compounds. Studies indicate that devil’s claw is unlikely to act by a similar mechanism to NSAIDs and further suggest that devil’s claw will not have the same irritant effects on the stomach which these drugs have.

Pharmacy: Powdered tuber:  100-250 mg TID (note: for analgesic effects should be taken in enteric coated capsules with meals). Tincture (1:2, 25%), 6-12 ml QD. Decoction: 1 tsp/cup, simmer 15 min, 1 cup TID for at least 1 month.

Contraindications: Caution with peptic ulcers, congestive heart failure, gallstones

Toxicity: Higher doses may cause transient mild GIT disturbances such as diarrhea & flatulence. Frontal headaches, conjunctivits, tinnitus, tachycardia, rhinitis have been reported.

Interactions: Caution with anti-arrhythmic and blood pressure medications (theoretical). Less effective if taken with antibiotics (needs intestinal bacteria for activation).


  • It is clear from the research that harpagoside alone is less effective for alleviating pain than whole extracts of the tuber, indicating that other compounds are  involved in the herb’s effects.
  • Has been shown to exhibit significant antioxidant activity
  • In one trial the extract was found to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as a well known analgesic drug.
  • Another study involving about 200 men and women with chronic low back pain reported that subjects who received daily doses of the extract experienced less pain than those who received placebo.
  • There is good evidence for stimulating digestion and may help lower both blood pressure and heart rate.
National Geographic: Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine. S. Foster & R. Johnson, 2006. 

Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. A. Chevallier, 1996.
Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, Mills and Bone, 2000.

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