Many herbal blends manufactured today include Devil’s Claw for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antioxidant properties. You may have heard this plant called the herbal alternative to phenylbutazone.
Devil’s Claw or Grapple plant, ( Harpagophytum procumbens ) grows in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. The Latin name Harpagophytum is a direct Greek translation of Grapple plant. Procumbens means lying down, describing the perennial vine with its blue-green leaves trailing across the sandy soil.
The common name Devil’s Claw comes from the fruit, which is covered in small hooks. Its trumpet-shaped flowers that only open for a day are red to pink with a yellowish throat. Being a desert plant, it stores water and nutrients in its root system. The offshoots of the roots are called secondary tubers and look much like an elongated potato. The tubers are the part used for medicinal purposes.
For centuries the indigenous people of South Africa have used this plant for multiple disorders . Today this plant is researched and used for osteoarthritis, bursitis, rheumatic pain, headaches, diabetes and to improve digestion. In horses it is useful when inflammation or pain is present due to arthritis or muscle pain. It can be useful as a tonic for older horses, and for horses who have suffered tendon or ligament damage in the past.
As with most herbs, Devil’s Claw works best when combined with other herbs such as Turmeric or Sarsaparilla.
Devil’s Claw has high concentrations of a chemical compound called harpogoside, which reduces inflammation in the joints. Other active constituents have analgesic properties. It also contains polyphenols and flavonoids, which are antioxidants.
At recommended dosages this herb has relatively little side effects. It is a bitter herb so it can increase gastric secretions and would not be suitable if gastric ulcers are suspected. There is some debate about this herb being safe for pregnancy so ask a qualified herbalist about your particular situation.
This plant can be used in powdered form or as a liquid extract, with the latter being quicker acting and more effective. The whole herb rather than an isolated form of the herb is generally more effective with less chance for side effects.
Due to overharvesting, Devil’s Claw is now on the protected species list. It is a slow growing plant, so conservation is necessary, to ensure sustainability.
Devil’s claw is a powerful herb for acute or chronic pain and well worth considering when deciding treatment options for your horse.
Bird, Catherine. A Healthy Horse the Natural Way , New Holland, 2005, p46
Mncwangi N, et al. Devil's Claw - a review of the ethnobotany, phytochemistry and biological activity of Harpagophytum procumbens, Journal of Ethnopharmacology , 2012 11:143(3);755-771
Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism, 2003, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, p557
Andrea Baldwin is an Herbalist, lifelong horse advocate and healer. She is currently studying at David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies to expand her clinical knowledge. Andrea and her family live on a small farm in Georgia.