Devil's claw is a desert plant, native to southern Africa and related to sesame. The Khoisan people have used devil's claw root medicinally for centuries, usually to treat pain or to reduce fever. A German farmer learned about it from local people in the early 1900s, and soon afterwards it was introduced to Europe.
Devil's claw contains a number of substances which are potentially useful to the human body. Flavonoids and phytosterols found in the plant are known to have an antioxidant effect, helping to protect against cell damage caused by free radicals. They are also anti-spasmodic and are known to stimulate bile production.
Iridoid glucosides found in devil's claw, including harpagoside, have potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in the body. Studies have shown that devil's claw root can be used to reduce the pain of arthritis.
Devil's claw is also thought to help soothe stomach upsets, and it can be applied topically to ulcers and skin sores.
Some people like to keep devil's claw in the first aid box or medicine cabinet, to help ease the pain of muscle strains and everyday aches and pains, and it does appear to have some effectiveness as a form of muscular pain relief.