Devil's claw.

Newsgroups: alt.folklore.herbs
Subject: Re: Devils Claw
From: Michael Moore <>
Date: 15 Aug 1995 20:31:51 GMT

>> There are several plants known as "Devil's Claw". Please identify the species and genus .... you know, the scientific name.
>I recall reading from some herb book about long term usage of Devil's Claw root and if I recall correctly it said take for 6 weeks and then take one week off.
>I am also very interested in the answer to this question as I have been taking Devil's Claw herb formula (no species/genus given) for quite some time now as it helps to manage my nerve root inflamation/pain and would really like to know toxic effects/correct dosages, etc. I take it according to bottle instructions (two capsules with meals), and my weekly schedule is 6 days on , one day off?

The plant (or if a formula, the primary one) is Harpagophytum procumbens, or Grapple Plant, a cousin of both Sesame and Martynia (the Southwest U.S. plant that makes those strange horned seeds beloved by Georgia O'Keefe mimickers, and made into second-rate mobiles by ageing hippies with bad teeth who sell them at weekend retro-Craft-Faires around the U.S., mumbling inchoately about "...The old Lady" and who say "groovy, man" every third declaritive).

H. procumbens (NOT the hippies) grows in SW Africa (the region, NOT the old buffer puppet-state), and was first researched by those hordes of German scientists sent out in the late 1800s to find exploitable natural resources in the little bits of land bought at remnant sales by Bismarck et al so that the new German State could boast of having a mini-colonial empire just like the other western European nations.

These researchers (lured partially, it's said, by bogus photographs of darker-skinned native women, lightly-clothed, and in seeming perpetual lactation), instead ended up in bleak, desolated places or in land clear-cut and depleted by the former colonial owners who took Der Bismarck to the cleaners.

When the dust and mud settled, this peculiar side-bar resulted in the introduction of such drug plants as Piper methysticum (Kava Kava or Awa) found in German West Melanesia (or whatever), alternative sources of quinine and cocaine found in German Guiana (or whatever) and Devil's Claw, found in German Southwest Africa.

It has been used rather extensively in Europe (both OTC and clinically), especially for rheumatoid arthritis and some forms of collagen disease. Conventional Wisdom has often recommended its use two-weeks on and two weeks off (or some variations thereof). Back in the 1970s I sold the plant in bulk and capsules with those recommendations. HOWEVER: two decades ago the plant was potent.

You see, the primary source of the medicine is the secondary tubers of H. procumbens. The plant has evolved its own strategy for living in its profoundly dry biosphere: It grows VERY slowly, and it stores water in these secondary tubers...some are 40 pounds in weight, and 10 meters below ground. The harpagocides (the active stuff) are found in these storage areas, but are nearly missing from the main root.

Here are the problems:

  1. It takes CENTURIES for an individual to reach a sizeable state.
  2. Cultivation has ended up in roots only (with VERY low constituents)
  3. With only wildcrafting as a resource, and with increased world demands every year, the numbers of mature plants has shrunk to almost zero. I talked to an ethnobotanist a couple of years ago who spent a ten-day field trip in areas that had supplied many herbarium specimens in past years...and did not find a SINGLE individual. Bear in mind, this is a plant that might muster 1 plant every 5-6 acres (and in sand-dune country where it might be the ONLY taxon). He had a feeling that the plant could be EXTINCT in a decade.

The solution:

DON'T BUY DEVIL'S CLAW. Another genus has been found to contain high levels of the same is common in many parts of the world, and cultivates easily. Scrophularia or Figwort...especially the three species, S. nodosa (Eurasia), S. marilandica and S. lanceolata (North America).

Michael Moore (