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The sustainability of devil’s claw

  • Jonas Brab
    Jonas Brab

    Jonas is a medical herbalist, and in this role he sees clients, teaches aspects of herbal medicine at The School of Herbal Medicine and works for Organic Herb Trading, where he produces tinctures and infused oils.

    Before becoming a medical herbalist, Jonas completed a BSc in forest
    science and forest ecology. For many years, he has been interested in
    matters of sustainability and in finding solutions for the challenges we face today.

    Through first-hand experience, Jonas has been able to explore many different ways of relating with the more than human world, be it through growing vegetables and herbs, wood working, bee keeping, bird watching, camping, basket making, leather tanning, or other natural crafts. Inspired by his own love for nature and natural crafts he worked in outdoor education for many years, bringing nature closer to children of all ages.

    Through his work with Organic Herb Trading, he has gained many insights into the global matters of the herbal trade and he is keen to raise awareness around sustainability within Herbal Medicine.

  • 9:32 reading time (ish)
  • Sustainability & Social Welfare

As devil’s claw grows in global popularity for its medicinal virtues, is this herb’s fame putting it in danger of extinction?

Devil’s claw is perhaps one of the most popular herbs within the various materia medica of herbal medicine. Although it has only fairly recently been added to the broad range of herbs used today, its popularity has grown fast, raising concerns about the sustainability of the trade with this plant. Where does it actually come from? Is it cultivated or come from the wild? Are the plant populations harvested sustainably? When we use herbs, especially those trending, we need to ask these questions to make sure our relationship with the plants is not costing the plants their existence.

Where does devil’s claw come from?

The sustainability of devil’s claw

Devil’s claw refers to two different species of the Harpagophytum genus, namely H. procumbens and H. zeyheri, with two and three subspecies, respectively. Devil’s claw owes its name to its characteristic fruits, comprising a flattened woody capsule with spiny, hook-like appendages. The genus Harpagophytum is part of the sesame family — the Pedaliaceae. They are herbaceous plants that grow creeping stems from primary taproots. Over the growing season, the plant develops secondary storage tubers, and it is typically these, which are used for medicinal purposes. 

Devil’s claw is found growing wild in most countries in the sandy Kalahari areas in southern Africa. H. procumbens is found mainly in Namibia, but can also be found in Botswana and in northern regions of South Africa. H. zeyheri occurs in these three countries, as well as in Angola, Zambia and Mozambique (1). Being a desert plant, it is well adapted to the dry harsh conditions, as well as being grazed and walked on by animals. They prefer savanna-like habitats and are sensitive to grass dominance. 

Jonas Brab

Jonas is a medical herbalist, and in this role he sees clients, teaches aspects of herbal medicine at The School of Herbal Medicine and works for Organic Herb Trading, where he produces tinctures and... Read more

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