African devils claw Grapple plant Harpagophytum procumbens Pedaliaceae

Devil's claw or grapple plant derives its name from the formidable "claw," the dried hooked thorns of the fruit used in seed dispersal, which are a hazard to any passing cloven-hoofed animal or careless human. The plant is native to southern and eastern Africa and it is collected in regions bordering the Kalahari Desert. It thrives in clay or sandy soils and is often found in parts of the South African veldt. The tubers are traditionally used as a tonic, for "illnesses of the blood," fever, problems during pregnancy, and kidney and bladder ailments. Since the mid-1980s and with considerable research effort, African devil's claw has been developed into a very successful and relatively well-characterized phy-tomedicine for the treatment of pain relief in joint diseases, back pain, and headache. Most pharmacological and clinical research has been conducted on standardized extracts. The secondary storage tubers are collected and, while they are still fresh, they are cut into small pieces and dried. The main exporters are South Africa and Namibia. Attempts are currently under way to cultivate the species because over-harvesting has led to conservation concerns.

The dried and powdered root of the plant is now included in the European Pharmacopoeia (2002) and some national pharmacopoeias, such as that of Switzerland. Several constituents are known, including iridoids and phenylethanoids, but the active constituents have not been identified with certainty.

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