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DEVIL'S CLAW

THE HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS,

ECOLOGICAL & SOCIAL BACKGROUND

ABOUT DEVIL'S CLAW

The Devil’s Claw, scientific name Harpagophytum Procumbens and Zeyeri, also locally referred to as Kamaku, Omakakata and Otjihangatene. Devil's Claw is a prostrate, trailing plant. During the rainy season, it grows stems of up to 1m long, spreading in all directions. The beautiful lilac flowers develop into a seed pod of up to 10cm long and 5cm wide with claw-like hooks which can intrude deeply into flesh or clothing. The mechanism of hooking serves to spread the plant; the fruit is dispersed by attaching to animals' fur and the seeds may remain dormant for decades. It is thus with good reason that this plant is called the Devil’s Claw. 

 

The taproot grows vertically into the ground, reaching a length between 1-2m and a diameter of up to 5cm. The smaller secondary tubers grow mostly horizontally and form tubes up to 10cm thick and 30cm long.

 

These secondary roots contain active agents. They are harvested, sliced and then dried. If harvesting is done carefully with sufficient expert care the main root should remain unharmed and productivity will improve as the ground is loosened and the water supply increased.

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OCCURANCE

Harpagophytum Procumbens occurs naturally in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Another species, Harpagophytum Zeyeri, flourishes in sandy areas in northern Namibia and Botswana as well as in Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Devil’s Claw can be found in numerous areas and forms small, densely grown fields.

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HISTORY

Devil's Claw has been used for thousands of years by local Namibian tribes, such as the San and Himba people.

Shortly after 1900, at the time of the colonial wars in German South-West Africa, a farmer, H.G. Mehnert, had the opportunity to witness the healing abilities of the Devil’s Claw by observing a traditional healer successfully treating injuries.

Mehnert became curious and after weeks of searching and with the help of local Namibians he managed to find and harvest devil’s claw, making it available to Namibians as well as to many western countries.

​In the 1960s the first major commercial export of Devil's Claw took place, and the international demand increased in the 1990s. Namibia is currently responsible for the largest percentage of Devil's Claw production and export. In 1977 Devil's Claw was listed as a protected species in Namibia, thus making harvest and export permits a requirement. Most harvesters in remote areas rely on the harvesting of Devil's Claw as their main source of income.

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ECOLOGICAL & SOCIAL BACKGROUNDS​

Between 600-1000 tons of dried Devil’s Claw are annually exported from Namibia. Sustainability is, therefore, an absolute necessity and is something EcoSo Dynamics strives for fervently. EcoSo Dynamics conducts cultivation trials to cater for the increase of international demand.

 

EcoSo Dynamics is determined to secure sustainable sources of the raw material and encourages that the gatherers have a share in the raw materials through accessible marketing channels, fair prices, training and participation in quality controls. One of the target groups is the indigenous community of the San in north-eastern Namibia. This community has been native to this area for an incredible 30.000 years and working alongside them is integral to the ethos of EcoSo Dynamics.

 

It is estimated that about 8000-10000 harvesters support their livelihoods by harvesting Devil’s Claw. It is therefore a major contributor to household income in rural areas.

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HEALTH BENEFITS

Devil’s Claw offers a variety of health benefits.


The local Namibian San people have made use of devil’s claw as a form of used as an all-purpose tonic assisting with ailments such as chest pains, emaciation, weakness, fatigue, urinary problems, digestive disorders and fever amongst others. During pregnancy devil's claw is used as an analgesic while it is also made into ointments to heal sores, ulcers and boils.

 

Devil's Claw is in great demand today and used as an anti-inflammatory, helping with arthritis and joint pain.

 

In the last 50 years, it has become well-known as a treatment for rheumatism, arthritis and gout in the western world. With ever-improving scientific research in the 1950s, it was discovered that devil’s claw contains iridoid glycosides, a class of compounds that has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, it was discovered that Devil's Claw inhibits the protein-degrading enzymes in the matrix of the articular cartilage and is therefore used in the treatment of arthrosis. As commercial pain and anti-inflammatory remedies became more accessible yet controversial due to their numerous side effects, devil's claw supplements underwent multiple studies to prove to be a natural alternative for inflammatory-related conditions, without the risk of side effects.

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