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Project Profile: Devil’s Claw

The Devil’s Claw in southern Africa
Conservation and sustainable use of a valuable medicinal plant


Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)

Devil’s Claw tubers (Harpagophytum procumbens; photo: Uwe Schippmann)
Devil’s Claw tubers (Harpagophytum procumbens; photo: Uwe Schippmann)

Name:

The name Devil’s Claw is related to the spiny appendices on the fruit. The secondary tubers are used medicinally. The species is in the Pedaliaceae (sesame) family.

Medicinal use:

Use is made of the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties in infusions and herbal medicines for arthritis and rheumatism.


Distribution:

Arid regions of southern Africa: Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The aerial parts of the plant are visible only for two months of the year and survive the dry season with the help of their underground tubers.


Habitat:

Devil’s Claw grows in the savannah on the dry margins of the Kalahari, where the annual precipitation is only 100 to 300 mm. The plants serve as a food and water reserve for wild and domestic animals. Devil’s Claw is collected from February to May, when it has sprouted and the aerial parts of the plant are visible.


Collectors:

The plants are collected by Kalahari bushmen (San and Damara) for use in traditional medicine and for sale. This is often the only source of cash income for these once nomadic and today socially severely disadvantaged communities.


Trade:

Germany is the main importer of Devil’s Claw material collected in the wild in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Over 1,000 tonnes of dried plants were exported in 2002. Exports increased significantly from 1990 to 2000. Namibia is the main exporting country.


Plant parts:

Dried tuber slices of Devil’s Claw (photo: Uwe Schippmann)
Dried tuber slices of Devil’s Claw (photo: Uwe Schippmann)

The secondary storage tubers are dug up, sliced and dried for sale. If the tubers are dug up carefully, the plant will continue to grow along with its main root.


Threat status:

Plant populations have strongly declined in regions where Devil’s Claw is harvested as a result of destructive collection methods and overexploitation. Due to a lack of comprehensive survey data the precise level of threat is unknown.

 


Project funding:

Between 2000 and 2007, the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) have funded various projects to promote the sustainable use of Devil’s Claw:
1) Research
to determine the general distribution of the species,
2)
Multi-year studies to develop sustainable harvesting methods,
3) 
Methodology for identifying the sustainable harvesting rate for a given area,
4) 
Training of collectors in the sustainable harvesting methods.

The aim of the project is sustainable collection of these plants in the wild such that traditional collectors have the opportunity to make a profit and so have an incentive to look after the species. This will make the bushmen guardians not just of the one species, but of a whole ecosystem. A transition to meeting all demand from cultivation – something firms are working on, so far unsuccessfully – would deprive the bushmen of this role and the opportunities that go with it.


Protection status:

On 28 April 2004, Harpagophytum procumbens was included in Annex D of Regulation (EC) No 834/2004. This means an import notification must be presented to customs on introduction into an EU state, enabling trade in the species to be monitored.


Publications:

Strohbach, M. & Cole, D. (2007): Population Dynamics and Sustainable Harvesting of the Medicinal Plant Harpagophytum procumbens in Namibia
BfN-Skripten 203 (3.3 MB)

Hachfeld, B. (2003): Ecology and utilisation of Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil's Claw) in Southern Africa (Plant Species Conservation Monographs 2). Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Bonn. 272 p.

Hachfeld, B. & Schippmann, U. (2000): Conservation data sheet 2: Exploitation, trade and population status of Harpagophytum procumbens in Southern Africa. Medicinal Plant Conservation 6: p. 4-9.


Project information:

Duration: 2000-2007

Project partners: Centre for Research Information Action in Africa (CRIAA), Windhoek/Namibia; Botanischer Verein zu Hamburg

Region: Namibia, South Africa


Project management at BfN:

Section II 1.2, Plant Conservation
Contact: Dr. Uwe Schippmann (uwe.schippmann@bfn.de)


Useful Link

African Devil's Claw in the WWF portal on endangered species

 

News

A plant from the deserts of southern Africa goes on tour in Germany: A travelling exhibition on sustainable use and equitable benefit sharing, Teufelskralle Goes Public (Devil’s Claw Goes Public), opened at the 9th Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

Last Change: 04/04/2018

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