Skip to Content


Medically reviewed on February 19, 2018

Scientific Name(s): Capparis spinosa L. Family: Capparidaceae

Common Name(s): Caper , cappero


Pickled flower buds are used as a condiment. Clinical trials are lacking to support various traditional uses. Antioxidant, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, and immune actions are being investigated.


No adequate clinical evidence exists to guide dosage.


Avoid use in patients hypersensitive to the plant species.


Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Capers have been used in traditional Arabian medicine as an emmenagogue and should be avoided in pregnancy.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Topical use of capers may cause contact dermatitis.


Information is limited.


C. spinosa is a dicotyledonous perennial shrub found throughout the Mediterranean countries of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The plant has been used for erosion control because the roots grow up to 3 m into the soil. From mid-April to the end of September, capers may grow 1 to 1.5 m in height, spread 2 to 3 m, and bud white flowers up to 7.6 cm across. If unpicked, the caper bud will flower and produce a round berry fruit. Two forms of the caper can be found, a spiny and a nonspiny variety. Capers thrive best in dry soil. 1 , 2 , 3 , 4


The caper has a long history of use as a culinary spice and remains widely used as a spice today. Archaeological findings in China indicate a medicinal use for the caper. In ancient Greece, the caper was used as a carminative.

In commercial operations, the unopened flower buds are collected by hand and pickled to produce the characteristic pungent taste and smell. The leaves are also picked and used in salads and fish dishes. Seeds of the caper have been traditionally used to preserve wine and relieve toothache, while the root bark has been used for cough, asthma, paralysis, spleen and skin disorders, as well as for rheumatism. 5 , 6


Extracts of the dried whole plant contain the flavonoids rutin, kaempferol-3-glucoside, kaempferol-3-rutinoside, and kaempferol-3-rhamnorutinoside. 7 Other components include quercetin 3- O -glucoside, quercetin 3- O -glucoside-7- O -rhamnoside, a new flavonoid quercetin 3- O -(6-alpha-L-rhamnosyl-6-beta-D-glucosyl)-beta-D-glucoside, 8 and 2 novel (6 S )-hydroxy-3-oxo-alpha-ionol glucosides. 9 One article reports on the anti-inflammatory activity of the polyprenol cappaprenol-13. 10 Other identified compounds include ursolic acid, coumaric acid, nicotinamide, sitosterol, cadabicine, and stachydrine. 11 Many of these compounds are also found in the floral buds. 12

Mature fruits contain an indole acetonitrile and various glucosides. 13

Seed oil contains the fatty acids linoleic and oleic acids, sterols, and tocopherols. 14

Uses and Pharmacology

Few high-quality clinical trials exist.


A butanolic caper extract exerted antimicrobial effects greater than those of aqueous extracts in in vitro experiments. Clinical importance was not evaluated and no comparison was made with standard antimicrobial agents. 15 , 16


Methanol extracts of the flower buds have been evaluated for antioxidant effect. Inhibition of lipid oxidation has been demonstrated in vitro; the mechanism is attributed to a cooperative interaction 12 between the tocopherol, flavonoid, and isothiocyanate chemical constituents. 12 , 17


p -Methoxy benzoic acid, from an aqueous C. spinosa extract, protected against induced hepatotoxicity in rats. 18 Similarly, a clinical trial investigating the efficacy of a mixed preparation containing caper extract combined with other extracts found an improvement in liver function laboratory values. 19


In normal and diabetic (induced) rats fed aqueous extracts of the powdered caper fruits for a 2-week period, a reduction in plasma cholesterol and triglycerides was demonstrated. 20 Other experiments in diabetic rats also reported a hypoglycemic effect. 21


A 2% methanol caper extract in aqueous gel inhibited histamine-induced erythema in human volunteers. 22 A protective effect on chondrocyte cells was shown in vitro and may be due to activation of an immune response. 23


A 2% aqueous gel has been used for antihistaminic effects. 22 Approximately 600 mg of dried whole plant extract per day has been used in a mixed preparation in experiments investigating hepatoprotective effects. 19


Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Capers have been used in traditional Arabian medicine as an emmenagogue and should be avoided during pregnancy. 11


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The topical application of wet compresses soaked in fluid containing capers has been associated with the development of contact dermatitis. 24


Information is limited. No reduction of cell viability was demonstrated by a methanol extract of capers. 23 Related species may be poisonous. 6


1. Capparis spinosa L. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database ( , September 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Andrade G, Esteban E, Velasco L, Lorite MJ, Bedmar EJ. Isolation and identification of N 2 -fixing microorganisms from the rhizosphere of Capparis spinosa (L.). Plant Soil . 1997;197:19-23.
3. Inocencio C, Alcaraz F, Calderon F, Obon C, Rivera D. The use of floral characters in Capparis sect. Capparis to determine the botanical and geographical origin of capers. Eur Food Res Technol . 2002;214:335-339.
4. Kelly D. Imported capers. Horticulture . 1991;69:16-17.
5. Jiang HE, Li X, Ferguson DK, Wang, YF, Liu CJ, Li CS. The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai Tombs (2800 years b.p.), NW China, and its medicinal implications. J Ethnopharmacol . 2007;113(3):409-420.
6. Simon JE, Chadwick AF, Craker LE. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography, 1971-1980 . Hamden, CT: Archon Books; 1984.
7. Rodrigo M, Lazaro MJ, Alvarruiz A, Giner V. Composition of capers ( Capparis spinosa ): influence of cultivar, size, and harvest date. J Food Sci . 1992;57:1152-1154.
8. Sharaf M, el-Ansari MA, Saleh NA. Quercetin triglycoside from Capparis spinosa . Fitoterapia . 2000;71(1):46-49.
9. Calis I, Kuruüzüm-Uz A, Lorenzetto PA, Rüedi P. (6S)-Hydroxy-3-oxo-alpha-ionol glucosides from Capparis spinosa fruits. Phytochemistry . 2002;59(4):451-457.
10. al-Said MS, Abdelsattar EA, Khalifa SI, el-Feraly FS. Isolation and identification of an anti-inflammatory principle from Capparis spinosa . Pharmazie . 1988;43(9):640-641.
11. Khanfar MA, Sabri SS, Zarga MH, Zeller KP. The chemical constituents of Capparis spinosa of Jordanian origin. Nat Prod Res . 2003;17(1):9-14.
12. Tesoriere L, Butera D, Gentile C, Livrea MA. Bioactive components of caper ( Capparis spinosa L.) from Sicily and antioxidant effects in a red meat simulated gastric digestion. J Agric Food Chem . 2007;55(21):8465-8471.
13. Calis I, Kuruuzum-Uz A, Lorenzetto PA, Ruedi P. (6S)-Hydroxy-3-oxo-alpha-ionol glucosides from Capparis spinosa fruits. Phytochemistry . 2002;59(4):451-457.
14. Matthäus B, Ozcan M. Glucosinolates and fatty acid, sterol, and tocopherol composition of seed oils from Capparis spinosa Var. spinosa and Capparis ovata Desf. Var. canescens (Coss.) Heywood. J Agric Food Chem . 2005;53(18):7136-7141.
15. Ali-Shtayeh MS, Abu Ghdeib SI. Antifungal activity of plant extracts against dermatophytes. Mycoses . 1999;42(11-12):665-672.
16. Mahasneh AM. Screening of some indigenous Qatari medicinal plants for antimicrobial activity. Phytother Res . 2002;16(8):751-753.
17. Germano MP, et al. Evaluation of extracts and isolated fraction from Capparis spinosa L. buds as an antioxidant source. J Agric Food Chem . 2002;50(5):1168-1171.
18. Gadgoli C, Mishra SH. Antihepatotoxic activity of p -methoxy benzoic acid from Capparis spinosa . J Ethnopharmacol . 1999;66(2):187-192.
19. Huseini HF, Alavian SM, Heshmat R, Heydari MR, Abolmaali K. The efficacy of Liv-52 on liver cirrhotic patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled first approach. Phytomedicine . 2005;12(9):619-624.
20. Eddouks M. Lemhadri A. Michel JB. Hypolipidemic activity of aqueous extract of Capparis spinosa L. in normal and diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol . 2005;98(3):345-350.
21. Eddouks M, Lemhadri A, Michel JB. Caraway and caper: potential anti-hyperglycaemic plants in diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol . 2004;94(1):143-148.
22. Trombetta D, Occhiuto F, Perri D, et al. Antiallergic and antihistaminic effect of two extracts of Capparis spinosa L. flowering buds. Phytother Res . 2005;19(1):29-33.
23. Panico AM, Cardile V, Garufi F, Puglia C, Bonina F, Ronsisvalle G. Protective effect of Capparis spinosa on chondrocytes. Life Sci . 2005;77(20):2479-2488.
24. Angelini G, Vena GA, Filotico R, Foti C, Grandolfo M. Allergic contact dermatitis from Capparis spinosa L. applied as wet compresses. Contact Dermatitis . 1991;24(5):382-383.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.