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Plant story - Devils claw found and collected from Botswana

Millennium Seed Bank Partnership fieldwork in the Okavango Delta in December 2005 located five IUCN Red List Index plant species, one of these being the very useful "Devils claw" (Harpagophytum zeyheri).
The fruit gives the plant the name "Devil's claw" (Image: Wolfgang Stuppy, RBG Kew)

The Okavango Delta marks the southernmost point of its distribution, which extends to southern Angola, northern Namibia, southern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership team collected seeds of the plant.

Medicinal plant at risk of overexploitation

Traditionally known as "Devil's claw",  the secondary storage roots are known for analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. This has lead to the plant being heavily harvested, which has raised concerns of over-exploitation and the species is now on the red data list (2005).

"Devils claw" tablets are now available in many western Health food shops and on-line stores, however this is usually the close relative Harpagophytum procumbens. The text below comes from a health supplements web site

"Devils claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a South African plant which has been used as an analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory and diuretic worldwide.

Africans have used the herb for centuries to treat skin cancer, fever, malaria and indigestion. In Europe, the tea is recommended for arthritis, diabetes, allergies, senility and is widely utilised as an appetite stimulant and a digestive aid.

In the west, "Devils claw" has been recommended for treating a wide variety of conditions including diseases of the liver, kidneys, and bladder, allergies, arteriosclerosis, lumbago, gastrointestinal disturbances, menstrual difficulties, neuralgia, headache, climacteric (change of life) problems, heartburn, nicotine poisoning, and above all, rheumatism and arthritis."

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