Devil´s Claw
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Devil´s Claw

The devil's claw, an excellent, natural, and anti-inflammatory agent.

The devil’s claw is one of the plants whose origins are deep-rooted in sub-Saharan Africa, more specifically in the zone of the Kalahari desert which is known as Namibia.

Harpagophytum procumbens, which is its scientific name, is probably more familiarly known as the Devil’s Claw, whose fruit can reach 20cm of length. Occasionally, it is also known as Windhoej root due to its geographical origin.

There are two parallel legends that serve as explanations for the devilish name of this plant: on the one hand, it is due to the appearance of its natural protrusions that resemble hooks from which the fruit grows. On the other hand, it is due to the fact that the native people observed how these claws sank on the backs of some animals, which produced an intense pain that made them move as if they were dancing the “dance of the Devil”.

The structure of the devil’s claw is divided in what we could call the primary root, which is a tuberous and lengthy figure, and secondary roots, which also look like a tube, which grow from the primary root and that clearly resemble avocados. These last ones, which have an intense bitter taste, are the ones that have the medicinal effect which is used for treatment with this plant.

The devil’s claw is an herbaceous phanerogam plant (which is the way the sap vessels are called and which are the ones that produce the seeds), of perennial leaves, and it belongs to the family of the Pedalicaeae, to which sesame also belongs. Its leaves are firm and fleshy, and their flowers are of pinkish tones.

The tubers are soft and their pulp is of a white-yellowish color, and they are also bitter. Due to its high aqueous content, that reaches almost a 90%, they must be dried through their fragmentation, after which they become hardened pieces with a curve shape and of a brown color, and they preserve their bitter flavor.

The root of this bush, which can even reach more than a meter and a half of length, has been employed from very remote times by the native people of the South-eastern Africa and the Madagascar Island to relieve the pain of giving birth and to take advantage of some of its therapeutic virtues.

A determining factor of the physiology of this bush when compared to other plants is its high resistance to meteorological conditions and to plagues, which is due to the fact that they produce a substance that allows them to resist high temperatures, the attacks of parasites that inhabit the desert, and the action of ultraviolet rays.

Nowadays, the devil’s claw is one of the most protected products in Botswana, the South-African Republic, and Namibia, which is the reason why their harvest and exportation are subject to strict controls and limitations. It has also been included in the CITES list (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

Information about the main components of the devil’s claw

The devil’s claw is rich in components of diverse therapeutic properties that improve our health, they are enhanced with other active ingredients that are generated by this plant. This is why the substance that is produced by the devil’s claw is a true treasure among the wide field of natural medicine, which has been confirmed by several specialists on this matter.

At the beginning of the last century, several research lines of investigation were opened that discovered around fifty organic components with biological activity in order to reduce pain and health problems. Among them, the ones that belonged to the iridoid group were a majority, and within this group the monoterpenic glucosides, which made up a 3% of the dry matter of the harpagophytum plant. And among them, the most important one is harpagoside, an active ingredient that is included in the pharmacopoeia and which is deserving of the titles of the upmost responsible for the healing properties of Harpagophytum procumbens, and of the best anti-inflammatory elements extracted from a medicinal plant.

The harpagoside is in charge of eliminating the problems caused by the pain related to inflammation and to improve health efficiently through a natural treatment.

Precisely, due to the massive demand of the properties of the devil’s claw among natural remedies that exists nowadays, almost without geographical limits, its farming has been progressively introduced in order to find a vegetable production that is sufficient to sustain the industrial requirements of the manufacturing laboratories of its diverse presentations.

The different substances that come into play when it comes to the configuration of the medicinal power of harpagophytum can be listed in the following way:

  • Iridoid glycosides: harpagoside, procumbide, harpagide, and free cinnamic acid, among others.
  • Phenolic glycosides: acteoside, verbascoside, and isoacteoside.
  • Phytosterols: beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol.
  • Free and esterified sterols.
  • Flavonoids, such as kenferol.
  • Triterpenic acids, such as oleanolic acid.
  • Stachyose (sugar made of fructose, glucose and galactose).
  • Caffeic acid
  • Essential aromatic oils

It must be mentioned that glycosides are formations of carbohydrates (substances that are formed by chains of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms), whose chemical reaction with water releases outside the harpagophytum plant these components that guarantee its resistance and development in such a hostile environment.

The active ingredients group are called iridoids (sometimes are also known as glycoiridoids) whose defining feature is that they produce the inhibition of one of the main substances that intervenes in inflammatory processes, prostaglandins; this effect is achieved by reducing the permeability of cell membranes and blocking the action of the synthetase-prostaglandin enzyme.

This medicinal plant has a notably renowned variety of beneficial actions for the organism among which, to sum up, we can find the digestive or eupeptic action, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, choleretic, detoxifying, anti-pyretic, anti-diabetic, appetite stimulant, hypoglycemic, and antioxidant properties. In one way or another, the devil’s claw is one of the most requested plants to reduce back pain.

Harpagophytum can be combined with other substances in order to mutually enhance their properties, such as in the case of products that contain hyaluronic acid or collagen, which are both renowned stimulants with regenerative properties of cell tissues, specially the cartilaginous and connective tissues. In order to consume the devil’s claw with other substances, it is necessary to know the secondary effects and contraindications of harpagophytum.

Specifically, the synergy consists on the fact that the devil’s claw reduces the pain caused by inflammation, while hyaluronic acid behaves as a stimulus in the extracellular matrix in order to increase the rate of cell division of the fibroblasts. These are the cells that occupy the most part of the connective tissue, which are suspended on a collagen matrix that they produce themselves. From these features are obtained extraordinary benefits not only for the elasticity and firmness of soft tissues but also for the synovial capsule of the joints.

Anti-inflammatory Harpagophytum
Another highly valued function of the devil’s claw, which is partly related to joint health, is its increase in diuresis, from which a greater facility for the excretion of uric acid in blood is derived. Otherwise, high levels of this compound can deteriorate the integrity of the joint due to the phenomenon of crystallization which causes it (which is the reason why it is used as one the plants with the best calming effects for intense pain that is common in gout). That said, it is clear that at the same time it has the ability to act as a purifying agent of the organism, since apart from contributing to the excretion of urates, it also excretes a multitude of toxic substances through the urine. So it behaves simultaneously as a preventive tool of renal colics.

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