The Caper (Capparis spinosa)

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The caper (Capparis spinosa) is one of the most characteristic plants of the Mediterranean islands. In its natural habitat this plant lives in the walls of ancient city walls as well as on rocky, coastal cliff faces. Capers used to be cultivated for their flower buttons and unripe fruits, which are eaten once pickled in brine. The large flowers with white petals and lots of stamens that open in the Summer are quite beautiful. The flower is fragile and short-lived, though. The delicate, cream-white petals and lively purple stamens persist only a few hours.

It is quite plausible that the caper was first introduced to Mallorca by the Moors during their 300 year long reign at the beginning of the second Millenium. The Arab name al-Kabara (alcaparra in Castellano, taparera in Catalan) seems to suggest an Arab origin.

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When propagated and farmed the Capparis spinosa is a remarkable plant as you can see from the photo below. The evergreen plant spreads in circular lumpy bushes of up to 2 m in diameter and is planted in rows, often amongst trees such as almonds. In Mallorca, the areas of Campos del Port, Santanyí and Llubi are particularly reknowned for their alcapparas production. But, in a way it seems that capers may lately have gone out of fashion. The harvest is rather strenuous with lots of bending down being involved.

Capers are a common ingredient in the Mediterranean cuisine. In Mallorcan markets, you can buy fresh (unripe) capers. Smaller buds (nonpareilles with less than 1 cm diameter) are considered more valuable than the larger ones (capucines and communes with more than 1.5 cm diameter). The salted and pickled caper bud is used as a seasoning or garnish. In some markets you can find capers readily prepared in a brine solution and sold in glass jars; these are also known as caper berries in English. Their flavour is rather intense.

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Capers are said to reduce flatulence and to be anti-rheumatic in effect. Capers have reported uses for arteriosclerosis, as diuretics, kidney disinfectants, vermifuges and tonics. Infusions and decoctions from caper root bark have been traditionally used for dropsy, anemia, arthritis and gout. Capers contain considerable amounts of the anti-oxidant bioflavinoid rutin.

In ayurvedeic medicine, capers are recorded as hepatic stimulants and protectors, improving liver function (Capers = Himsra).

Caper extracts and pulps have been used in cosmetics.

The medicinal properties were quoted from the http://www.purdue.edu website. Thank you.

~ by plantarium on July 14, 2009.

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