The claw of the devil, scientifically known as Harpagophytum procumbens or more commonly harpagofito, is a plant of South Africa. It owes its name to the threat of its fruit, which bears smaller hook-shaped projections. Traditionally, the roots of this plant have been used for a variety of ailments such as fever, chronic pain, arthritis, and indigestion.

The use of medicinal plants to treat inflammatory reactions and other conditions is becoming more and more common. The benefits of traditional medicine and the use of the healing properties of plants have been demonstrated on numerous occasions, with which the interest in substances of plant origin is increasing, in addition, with a fairly low margin of side effects.

In the treatment of diseases that cause pain and inflammation, such as arthritis and others, one of the plant species that most stands out for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties is devil’s claw.

Devil’s claw is a plant native to Africa widely used to treat joint pain and tendonitis; and digestive problems such as poor appetite or bloating.

To know the benefits of this plant and its medicinal uses, read on.

What is harpagofito?

The devil’s claw is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Pedaliácea family, which is made up of more than 90 species and 16 genera. It has a quite characteristic morphology; its fruits grow as woody capsules full of hooked spines covered with wax. This is where its name comes from, since harpagofito means ‘plant with hooks’ in Greek.

Another of its names is ‘Devil’s claws’ in reference to its appearance, and ‘Windhoek root’ in reference to its place of origin.

This species is native to Southeastern Africa, specifically to the desert areas of Namibia, Botswana, etc., where it mostly grows spontaneously, although it is also cultivated.

History of the devil’s claw

The first to describe this plant was William John Burchell, a British naturalist, illustrator and explorer, in the book “Plantarum Vascularium Generates” a book of detailed botanical descriptions, by Carl Meissner.

On the other hand, this plant was known by European scientists in approximately the 19th century, when its great anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties were observed.

However, it was not until the mid-20th century that a German settler learned to use it medicinally and the colonizers brought the shrub to the European continent.

The plant was included in the Pharmacopoeia – a compilation of compilation books of recipes for products with real or supposed medicinal properties – starting in 1994.

Properties and benefits

The main active components of devil’s claw are iridoids, organic compounds derived from isoprene that are known for their effective anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and amebicidal action. Some of the iridoids present in this plant are the harpagoside, the harpágido, the procumbid and the procumboside.

Likewise, devil’s claw also contains flavonoids, which are secondary metabolites present in the chemical composition of various plants. These substances are the main fighters of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage in human beings, therefore they constitute an effective protection shield.

They protect humans from UV rays (even in summer when they increase significantly), environmental pollution (which includes toxic minerals like lead and mercury), harmful chemicals found in some foods, and more.

Benefits in the body

Devil’s Claw also contains lipids, a set of organic molecules made up of carbon and hydrogen, as well as a little oxygen. These molecules perform numerous functions in our body:

  • Energy reserve: the lipids that provide energy are triglycerides, the main energy reserve of living beings.
  • Structural protection: cholesterol, glycolipids and phospholipids are the substances in charge of coating and giving consistency to the organs, they also protect the mechanical functioning of the general structures of the body.
  • Regulation of hormonal activity and cell communication: lipids regulate metabolism and play a fundamental role in cell communication and the response of the immune system to external stimuli.
  • Transport: the path that lipids take from the intestine to expulsion regulates bile acids and lipoproteins.
  • Thermal regulation: lipids regulate body temperature and prevent it from losing the necessary heat.

According to the European Medicines Agency, there are still no medical or scientific studies in general that support the properties of devil’s claw, so its medicinal and pharmacological activity has been demonstrated only with its prolonged use over time in various cultures.

However, there are studies that could show that it does indeed have analgesic, peripheral and anti-inflammatory capabilities. This activity is highly dependent on the route of administration, the most effective is thought to be the intraperitoneal route.

In addition, it has also been observed to have certain effects on the cardiovascular system, in reducing blood pressure and heart rate. Which of the devil’s claw compounds causes this activity has yet to be determined?

How to use harpagofito?

In general, devil’s claw is used in the form of a powdered drug made from the dry extract of the plant. It is also consumed in infusions.

The German Ministry of Health recommends a daily dose of 60-120 mg, since very high amounts of the drug should not be administered because it can be toxic and generate adverse effects such as stomach upset and skin reactions.

Another pharmaceutical form of recommended consumption is the encapsulated dry extract, it is advisable to take it after each meal.

In what cases should you not use it?

  • Gastritis, peptic ulcers, hypersensitivity to salicylates.
  • Pregnancy (there is a possibility that it induces a spontaneous abortion).
  • Asthma (can contract the bronchial tubes).
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Do not use in small children.

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