Capparis Spinosa

 

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The caper plant or bush is a native of the Mediterranean area especially present in Egypt. Its botanical name is Capparis Spinosa or Capparis. aegyptia. Its common name is caper, caperberry or caperbush. Its Arabic name is Kaber or lussef

The plant is present in Egypt, Turkey, Italy and Spain. It is also present in the Himalayan area. It grows on rocky cliffs and stone walls in the sea-spray zone. It is thought however that its ancient habitat was the dry areas of Western or Central Asia.

 

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The Caperbush is an evergreen , spiny, trailing, deciduous shrub growing up to 1-2 m in height. Leaves are alternate, round to ovate, thick, and glistening. Leaf stipules may be formed into spines, this is the reason it is called spinosa. Spinosa" refers to the pair of hooked spines at the base of each leaf stalk.

It has beautiful flowers that are hermaphrodite. Flowers are about 2 inches in diameter, white with numerous violet stamens, and very pleasing in appearance. Reputed to be quite fragrant, the flowers open at dawn and close by late afternoon, during which time they are a magnet for pollinating insects.

The delicate, cream-white petals and lively purple stamina persist only a few hours. Moreover, the flowers are rarely seen in caper gardens as the caper bud must be harvested before it opens.

Seeds are large, kidney shaped, and gray-brown in color. There is also a variety without spines, from which the crop is gathered more easily and without injury to the hands.

The parts used are the bark and root bark in various herbal remedies. Buds, to be harvested in the morning time immediately before flowering; they are never dried but pickled in oil, brine or vinegar.

 The main constituent of caper is water (about 85%). The dry matter contains, besides bitter flavonoid glycosides, a mustard oil glycoside named glucocapparin (methyl glucosinolate), whence by enzymatic reaction the pungent principle of capers, methyl isothiocyanate, is liberated. Thus, capers resemble several spices of the cabbage family all of which contain mustard oil glycosides.

Among the flavonoids, rutin (named after its occurrence in rue) is the most important. The white spots often seen covering the surface of pickled capers are said to by rutin which crystallized during the pickling procedure.
The pungency of unripe caper berries is due to aliphatic isothiocyanates (methyl, isopropyl and sec-butyl); furthermore, a pyridine alkaloid stachydrine was found.

 

Uses 

Medicinal Uses

Caper plant was used from a long time ago by the ancient Greeks and the romans for medicinal purposes.

Caper is used as an  Analgesic; Anthelmintic; Antihaemorrhoidal; Aperient; Deobstruent; Depurative; Diuretic; Emmenagogue; Expectorant; Tonic; Vasoconstrictor. These are the properties of the root bark. Decoctions from the root bark have been used in traditional medicines for dropsy, anemia, arthritis and gout.

The stem bark is bitter and diuretic. If taken before meals it will increase the appetite. 

One of the reasons for its effectiveness for these purposes may be the fact that the plant contains the anti-oxidant bioflavinoid rutin which also contributes to the flavor.

In ayurvedeic medicine capers are recorded as hepatic stimulants and protectors, improving liver function

It is used internally in the treatment of gastrointestinal infections, diarrhoea, gout and rheumatism. Externally, it is used to treat skin conditions, capillary weakness and easy bruising.

The unopened flower buds are laxative. They are used internally in the treatment of coughs, and externally to treat eye infections. The buds are a rich source of compounds known as aldose-reductose inhibitors - it has been shown that these compounds are effective in preventing the formation of cataracts. The buds are harvested before the flowers open and can be pickled for later use - when prepared correctly they are said to ease stomach pain.

Medical uses include reduction of flatulence, as an anti-rheumatic. It has been reported to be used as a diuretic, vermifuge, and tonic.

The leaves are bruised and applied as a poultice in the treatment of gout.

 

Culinary Uses

Capers have a sharp piquant flavor and add pungency, a peculiar aroma and saltiness to comestibles such as pasta sauces, pizza, fish, meats and salads. The flavor of caper may be described as being similar to that of mustard and black pepper. In fact, the caper strong flavor comes from mustard oil: methyl isothiocyanate (released from glucocapparin molecules) arising from crushed plant tissues.

Capers are picked daily, since the youngest flowerbuds (about the size of peas) have the highest quality. Capers are valued in proportion to the smallness of their size. The young fruits and tender branch tips can also be pickled and used as a condiment. The flower buds are pickled and used as a flavouring in sauces, salads. They are pickled in vinegar, or sometimes in salted vinegar. Both the capers and the young berries are used in sauces and pickling, primarily by Europeans.

Capers are essential for several Mediterranean cuisines and are mostly associated with Italian (and Cypriot) foods. They are mostly applied to tomato or sauces and fit well to poultry and fish. Furthermore, they are popular with cold meat and frequently used for Italian pizza.

Tender young shoots including immature small leaves may also be eaten as a vegetable, cooked and used like asparagus or pickled. More rarely, mature and semi-mature fruits are eaten as a cooked vegetable. Additionally, ash from burned caper roots has been used as a source of salt.

 Other Uses

Capers have been used as flavoring for centuries. An extract of the root is used as a cosmetic and is particularly useful in treating rose-colored rashes and capillary weaknesses.

It is used also as an ornamental plant.


 


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