Native to southern Africa, devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is named for the miniature hooks that cover its fruit. For thousands of years, the Khoisan peoples of the Kalahari Desert have used devil's claw root in remedies to treat pain and complications of pregnancy and in topical ointments to heal sores, boils, and other skin problems. Since its introduction to Europe from Africa in the early 1900s, dried roots have been used to restore appetite, relieve heartburn, and reduce pain and inflammation. In fact, mounting evidence suggests that devil's claw root may help relieve pain and inflammation in people with arthritis and other painful disorders, although the mechanism of action (in other words, how it reduces pain and swelling) is not well understood yet.
The devil's claw tuber contains three important constituents belonging to the iridoid glycoside family: harpagoside, harpagide, and procumbide. The secondary tubers of the herb contain twice as much harpagoside as the primary tubers and are the chief source of devil's claw used medicinally. Harpagoside and other iridoid glycosides found in the plant may be responsible for the herb's anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions. However, research has not entirely supported the use of devil's claw in alleviating arthritic pain symptoms. In one trial it was found to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis as effectively as the slow-acting analgesic/cartilage-protective drug diacerhein. One double-blind study reported that devil's claw was helpful in reducing low back pain.
Devil's claw is also considered by herbalists to be a potent bitter. Bitter principles, like the iridoid glycosides found in devil's claw, can be used in combination with carminative (gas-relieving) herbs by people with indigestion, but not heartburn. Devil's Claw is rich in the iridoid glycoside harpagoside which inhibits both pathways of arachidonic acid metabolism (cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase) as well as the synthesis of leukotrienes and thromboxanes. Also, Devil’s Claw is rich in flavonoids like kaempferol, luteolin, chlorogenic acid, and the triterpenes ursolic and oleanic acid. Devil’s Claw has been clinically proven to improve joint motility and function, including in the hip, knee, fingers and spine.
The main active ingredients in Devil's claw are Harpogoside and Beta sitosterol, which possess anti-inflammatory properties and create support for joint, ligament and tendon problems. Devil's claw is reported to help with joint pain while improving vitality in the joint. Devil's claw is approved as a nonprescription medicine by the German Commission E, an expert panel of physicians and pharmacists who advise Germany's counterpart of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Approved uses of devil's claw include loss of appetite, digestive disorders, and "degenerative disorders of the locomotor system" (i.e., to treat pain and inflammation in the joints).