Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw are often confused with each other because their names are so similar, but these plants are actually very different. They’re from different parts of the world, growing in different ways, and are totally unrelated.
However, they’ve both been used, by different cultures, in traditional plant medicines and do have similar reported effects. But there’s still some nuance between their applications, and they can’t be used interchangeably.
Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw are both really interesting plants to learn about because of their history as medicinal plants and also how these properties have made them valued in many different cultures. Keep reading to learn about these plants and how they’re believed to work!
Please note: We present the following information for academic and historical purposes only. When considering using these plants for medicinal purposes, please consult with your healthcare provider.
Cat’s Claw vs. Devil’s Claw at a Glance
|Cat’s Claw||Devil’s Claw|
|Botanical Name||Uncaria tomentosa or Uncaria guianensis||Harpagophytum procumbens|
|Appearance||Vine with green leaves and large, bright yellow flowers||Small bush with blue-green foliage and light pink flowers|
|Part of the Plant That’s Harvested||Roots, bark, and leaves||Roots and tubers|
|Reported Medicinal Properties||Anti-inflammatory and immune boosting||Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant|
|Way to Consume||Pills, powder, tea, or tincture||Pills, powder, tea, or tincture|
About Cat’s Claw Plants
Cat’s Claw is a vine native to South America, it’s mostly found in Peru and throughout the Amazonian Basin, but also grows in parts of Central America. It’s believed that Cat’s Claw was highly valued by the Incas and it still is a very important plant for indigenous peoples in these regions.
There are a few species of Cat’s Claw but the most popular is Uncaria tomentosa, although Uncaria guianensis is also commonly found and grown. These shouldn’t be confused with Cat’s Foot, which is a totally different plant!
Cat’s Claw isn’t super popular in the U.S. for growing in gardens because it isn’t cold hardy and will only grow outdoors in the south. It is gaining popularity, though, as more people learn about its potential health benefits!
About Devil’s Claw Plant
Devil’s Claw is completely unrelated and is native to Southern Africa, growing in a more arid and colder climate than the jungle that Cat’s Claw is native to. With British colonization in Southern Africa, this plant was brought to Europe and is still commonly grown in France and Germany to be used in plant medicines.
The botanical name for Devil’s Claw, Harpagophytum procumbens, comes from the Greek name “hook plant” to describe the large hooks around the fruit. Devil’s Claw is sometimes called “Wood Spider” because the dried fruit, with all its large hooks, looks like a wooden spider!
Cat’s Claw is a trailing vine that grows in the understory of the Amazon jungle and climbs up its huge trees. It has bright green leaves throughout the year and blooms with radiant yellow flowers in the spring.
The flowers are quite large, about four to five inches across, and look a lot like hibiscus flowers. When they bloom, they pretty much cover the whole vine!
Devil’s Claw is a small, woody plant that only grows about one foot tall but spreads out two to three feet. Its branches have sharp thorns and in the spring, they bloom with small white or light pink flowers.
Devil’s Claw produces a fruit that looks like a pepper, except with hooked ends and hooks all around it to catch animals and spread its seeds. The fruit is edible but it’s apparently not very tasty and really bitter.
Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw are both primarily grown to be used as plant medicines in various herbalist practices. There are several reported benefits from each plant that are based on traditional and cultural knowledge, but I can’t personally verify that either plant will be effective in the ways described here.
Cat’s Claw is believed to invigorate the immune system, strengthening the body’s ability to fight viruses and cancer cells by increasing the production of white blood cells.
It’s also used to lower high blood pressure because it contains hirsutine, which is an alkaloid that blocks calcium release and opens up the blood vessels.
Cat’s Claw is believed to have strong anti-inflammatory effects, especially the species with more pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids. This makes it useful for alleviating arthritis pains that come from inflamed joints or digestion problems due to irritated bowels.
It’s also thought that Devil’s Claw has anti-inflammatory effects because it contains iridoid glycosides, so that’s its main use in herbal medicine. Believed to have more substantial calming properties than Cat’s Claw, Devil’s Claw is used for a wider range of conditions dealing with inflammation or pain.
Specifically, it’s used for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and back pain but it’s generally used as a remedy for any muscle pains or menstrual cramps. It’s also reported to be an antioxidant.
Plant Parts Harvested
For Cat’s Claw, the bark, leaves, and roots are harvested to be used in herbal medicine treatments. For Devil’s Claw, it’s simply the roots or tubers- which are large, meaty roots that store lots of nutrients.
How to Take Cat’s Claw or Devil’s Claw
Both Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw can be infused into a tea, dried and turned into a powder, or made into an extract. Since both are used for anti-inflammatory purposes, they’re often added to creams to be used directly on the skin.
If you’re interested in taking either Cat’s Claw or Devil’s Claw for medicinal purposes, be sure to do further research on the specific condition you want to treat to find out the right dosage. Use discretion and moderation, and always avoid high doses before you know how your body responds.
Thankfully, there aren’t any serious side effects that have been observed with either Cat’s Claw or Devil’s Claw. But, of course, each of our bodies reacts differently and there are possible negative responses.
It’s not likely, but it’s possible that you could have problems such as:
- Nausea and stomach pains
- Loss of taste
- Loss of appetite
- Ringing in the ears
If you experience any negative effects you should immediately stop taking the medication and reassess.
Avoid Taking If…
There aren’t any directly related risks between Cat’s Claw or Devil’s Claw and the following conditions. However, as a precaution, you shouldn’t take Cat’s Claw if you have:
- An auto-immune disease
- Peptic ulcers
You should avoid Devil’s Claw if you have:
- Low sodium levels
- Heart problems
- Peptic ulcers
You should never take either of these medicines in combination with another medication. Especially when you’re trying either for the first time, make sure to leave ample time between ending a medication and beginning with these.
There are several alternatives to Cat’s Claw or Devil’s Claw if you’re struggling to find available products or would like to try something more familiar.
Plants that are known to have immune-boosting properties similar to Cat’s Claw include:
- Citrus fruits
Plants that are known to have anti-inflammatory effects similar to both Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw include:
- Green tea
- Omega-3 fats
Hooray for Healthy Plants!
As I’ve explained, I can’t vouch for either of these plants as a surefire cure for any ailments. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential healing effects of either plant, I really encourage you to continue doing research to see if Cat’s Claw or Devil’s Claw can help your situation!
While I’m not an herbalism expert, hundreds of years of cultural knowledge shouldn’t just be ignored and is reason enough to consider these plants as viable medicines.
I hope this article helped you gain a little knowledge about plant medicines and made clear all the differences between Cat’s Claw and Devil’s Claw plants!
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © poomooq/Shutterstock.com
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- Medical News Today, Available here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/devils-claw#health-benefits
- WebMD, Available here: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-395/cats-claw
- Mount Sinai , Available here: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/devils-claw
- The Healthline, Available here: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cats-claw#dosage
- Indigo Herbs, Available here: https://www.indigo-herbs.co.uk/natural-health-guide/benefits/cats-claw