Native to southern Africa, devil's claw gets its name from the tiny hooks that cover its fruit. Historically, devil’s claw has been used to treat pain, liver and kidney problems, fever, and malaria. It has also been used in ointments applied to the skin to heal sores, boils, and other skin problems.
Devil’s claw was introduced to Europe in the early 1900s, where the dried roots have been used to restore appetite, relieve heartburn, and reduce pain and inflammation.
Today, devil's claw is used to fight inflammation or relieve pain in arthritis, headache, and low back pain. Animal and test tube studies suggest that devil’s claw can help fight inflammation, and it is used widely in Germany and France.
Devil’s claw can be used as a bitter tonic for gastrointestinal complaints and as a blood cleanser, also helping with liver and gallbladder complaints. It has also been known to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and obesity.
An analysis of 14 studies using devil’s claw to treat arthritis found that higher quality studies showed devil’s claw may relieve joint pain. And a review of 12 studies using devil’s claw for arthritis or low back pain found that devil’s claw was at least moderately effective for arthritis of the spine, hip, and knee. Although many of the studies have been small and not well designed, there is some evidence that devil's claw may help relieve low back and neck pain. In a small study of 63 people with mild-to-moderate back, neck, or shoulder pain, taking a standardized extract of devil’s claw for 4 weeks gave moderate relief from muscle pain. In a larger study of 197 men and women with chronic low back pain, those who took devil’s claw every day for a month said they had less pain and needed fewer painkillers than those who took placebo.
There appears to be a risk of increased bleeding when devil's claw is taken together with anticoagulant drugs (blood-thinners), such as warfarin (coumadin) and heparin. Don't take devil's claw during pregnancy or while breast-feeding. Consult your doctor before taking it if you have ulcers, gallstones, or a heart problem.