Harpagophytum zeyheri / procumbens / Inkunzane enkulu (N)
Devil’s claw got its name from the peculiar appearance of its hooked fruit.The plant’s large tuberous roots are used medicinally to reduce pain and fever, and to stimulate digestion. Early colonisers brought devil’s claw to Europe where it’s been used to treat arthritis and rheumatism.
Where it can be found: Devil’s claw is found in the western parts of Zimbabwe, predominantly on Kalahari sands, but also other sandy areas, in dry open woodland. Highest densities can be found in areas degraded due to overgrazing/trampling where there is little competition from other vegetation. Harpagophytum zeyheri has a wider distribution than Harpagophytum procumbens; current ecological surveys being carried out show the presence of H. zeyheri in Hwange, Tsholotsho, Lupane, Matobo and Beitbridge districts; H. procumbens has so far only been found in Beitbridge district.
In collaboration with the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, appropriate cultivation methods (such as planting seedlings with harvesters in areas where devil’s claw already grows) are being trialed, to reduce pressure on wild populations, increase the resource base and to rehabilitate areas in which unsustainable harvesting has taken place.
What is harvested – Harvesting time: The secondary storage tubers of the plant are harvested from March to October, but harvesting usually starts in June, once the rains have ceased and crops have been harvested from the fields. Tubers are sliced and dried.
Average yield per collector: To produce 1 kg of dried material, a harvester must dig up 5-10 plants and harvest 4-5 kg of tubers. In 2013, 250 farmers in Hwange district produced 3 tonnes of organically certified dried devil’s claw; in 2014, these same farmers produced 18 tonnes; for 2015 18.8 tonnes were harvested. Potentially, 150-200 tonnes of dried devil’s claw could be produced in Zimbabwe every year.
H. procumbens is the more sought-after species due to its higher concentration of active ingredients.
Namibia is by far the largest supplier of devil’s claw in the world; Angola, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe also export, but to date in smaller quantities.
The global demand is increasing, ranging between 600-1,000 tonnes/year. The world market is growing both in terms of volumes bought and number and spread of export destinations. New herbal remedy uses are also emerging and other market segments (veterinary, herbal teas) hold potential for significant expansion.