DEVILS CLAW ROOT
There are many plants that carry the common name of devil's claw, but this one deserves some special attention. Harpagophytum procumbens is a traditional medicine plant of the San people who live in the Kalahari Desert. Devil's Claw is a perennial desert plant. It is a warrior plant that specifically grows in ground that has been degraded and abused by overgrazing. It protects the ground from further assault by means of its fearsome seeds with their tenacious hooks from which it derived its name. The seeds hook onto the hoofs or mouths of grazing animals, which. quite immobilizes the hapless animals and they may become unable to carry on grazing - an effective deterrent in the plant's effort to protect fragile lands. Devils Claw produces not only a deep taproot, but also a tuberous secondary root, which becomes very swollen and fleshy. This is the part which the San collect for medicine. Back in the 1950 Western researchers found out about the remarkable properties of this plant and started to market it in the West. To cut an old and familiar tale short - today Devil's Claw is becoming rare. Of the 3 countries in which it is found, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, it is endangered in two. The tragedy is that untrained harvesters collect not just the tuber but also the root, thus killing the plant for good. Deserts are fragile environments and desert plants are particularly at risk. In recent years awareness regarding the damaging effects of unsustainable harvesting methods has grown considerably and there are now some efforts to grow and harvest this root sustainably.
In Western herbalism the application of this root is limited to treatment of arthritic joints, rheumatoid aches and pains and lower back pain. However, it must be said that this is not a magic bullet. It allies chronic rather than acute pain and relief is felt after taking the extract for a period of time. This may partly be due to the fact that the anti-inflammatory compound (iridoid glycosides) is rendered less effective by the interaction with the stomach acid and there are some studies which suggest that injections to the affected area are more effective than tea. Traditional healers have a far greater spectrum of use for this plant including anorexia, indigestion, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, gout, fevers, skin cancer, infectious diseases (including tuberculosis), allergies, osteoarthritis, fibrositis and rheumatism, being particularly effective in small joint diseases (Van Wyk and Gericke, 2000). Externally it is also used to wash wounds. When taken on a regular daily basis, it has a subtle laxative effect. Small doses of the plant's root extract are used for menstrual cramps, while higher doses assist in expelling retained placentas. Devils Claw is also used as an analgesic after child birth and to keep the uterus contracted. Its actions on the digestive system are explained by its extreme bitterness. Its effects on the uterine system have been investigated and verified in laboratory studies.
Nothing has been written about the magical uses of this herb. However, it has powerful protective qualities and as an amulet, placed near door ways, may protect against unwanted intruders. Do not use during pregnancy