Find out all about devil’s claw, including what it does, the benefits to taking it and how much you might need
Written by Jack Feeney on January 8, 2019
Reviewed by Gabriella Clarke on January 22, 2019
What is devil’s claw and what does it do?
Devil’s claw, scientifically known as Harpagophytum procumbens, is an African plant mainly used to ease joint pain – including back pain – inflammatory complaints, and digestive disorders.1
The plant is named after its fruit, which is covered in spikes that resemble the talons on a claw, but it’s actually the root that tends to be dried out, powdered, and used in remedies.2
You can find devil’s claw in teas, tablets and capsules. It’s also available in beauty products such as herbal bath soaks, gels and massage oils.
Benefits of devil’s claw
What does devil’s claw do in the body?
The European Medicines Agency says that devil’s claw can be used to relieve minor joint pain and mild digestive disorders, such as bloating or flatulence.3 As a traditional herbal medicine, it’s used for the relief of backache, rheumatic or muscular pain, and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints.
It’s thought devil’s claw may have this effect due to anti-inflammatory compounds called iridoid glycosides, especially harpagoside, that help suppress the body’s inflammatory responses.4,5
Studies have found the plant could tackle a number of common complaints, such as:
- lower back pain: A 2016 review of 10 different trials, on over 2,000 people, concluded that devil’s claw was more effective than a placebo at reducing lower back pain. However, the researchers called for more trials to be carried out, testing devil’s claw and other herbal medicines against conventional treatments.6
- osteoarthritis: Versus Arthritis, the UK’s leading arthritis research charity, says ‘evidence suggests that devil’s claw may be as effective as conventional medicines for osteoarthritis.’7 A study published in the journal Phytomedicine in 2002 found that patients with hip or knee arthritis taking a supplement containing devil’s claw over eight weeks saw a 54% and 39% improvement respectively in their pain levels.8
- digestive issues: The compounds in devil’s claw that give it a bitter taste are thought to increase production of stomach acid, which can stimulate appetite and relieve indigestion.9,10
While the evidence is inconclusive, devil’s claw could also be effective for:11
How much devil’s claw is safe to take?
Herbal preparations vary, so make sure you follow the recommendations on any product packaging or labels. While there is no set upper limit, the European Medicines Agency guidelines do not advise exceeding 800mcg to 1g of devil’s claw a day.12
For gels, oils or creams, apply a thin layer as needed to the affected area until it has been absorbed. However, if any itching or redness develops, stop using it and see your GP.
Children under the age of 18, pregnant woman and people with stomach ulcers should all avoid taking devil’s claw.13
What are the side-effects of taking devil’s claw?
Side-effects of devil’s claw are unusual, but those that have been reported include:14
- stomach ache
- diarrhoea and vomiting
- allergic reactions
Very rarely, it may cause irregular heartbeat and bleeding, so talk to your doctor or a trained medical herbalist before using devil’s claw. Be aware that it can also interact with certain medications, such as anticoagulants, painkillers, heart drugs and medication for stomach ulcers.15
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. Encyclopedia.com. Devil’s Claw
2. Makayla Meixner. Healthline. Devil’s Claw: Benefits, Side Effects and Dosage
3. European Medicines Agency. Harpagophyti radix
4. Viljoen A, Mncwangi N, Vermaak I. Anti-inflammatory iridoids of botanical origin
5. Mncwangi N, et al. Devil’s Claw-a review of the ethnobotany, phytochemistry and biological activity of Harpagophytum procumbens.
6. Gagnier JJ, et al. Herbal Medicine for Low Back Pain: A Cochrane Review
7. Versus Arthritis. Devil’s Claw
8. Chrubasik S, et al. Comparison of outcome measures during treatment with the proprietary Harpagophytum extract doloteffin in patients with pain in the lower back, knee or hip
9. Thorne Research. Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw). Alternative Medicine Review Volume 13, Number 3
10. As Source 5
11. As Source 1
12. European Medicines Agency. European Union herbal monograph on Harpagophytum procumbens DC. and/or Harpagophytum zeyheri Decne
13. As above
14. As Source 2
15. As Source 7