Egyptian Pharmaceutical Journal

: 2018  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 61--66

Capparis spinosa L.: a natural source of pharmaceuticals

Mohamed Amin El-Ansari, Lamyaa Fawzy Ibrahim, Mohamed Sharaf 
 Department of Phytochemistry and Plant Systematics, National Research Centre, Dokki, Cairo, Egypt

Correspondence Address:
Lamyaa Fawzy Ibrahim
Department of Phytochemistry and Plant Systematics, National Research Centre, Dokki 12311, Cairo


Capparis spinosa L. (Caper) is an important source of different secondary metabolites of beneficial activities on human health. Phytochemical studies have shown the presence of many bioactive compounds such as spermidine, rutin, quercetin, kaempferol, stigmasterol, tocopherols, and carotenoids. Biological studies reveal important antimicrobial, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, immunomodulatory, and antiviral properties. The present review summarizes information concerning biological activities of some compounds isolated from C. spinosa for the management of several diseases.

How to cite this article:
El-Ansari MA, Ibrahim LF, Sharaf M. Capparis spinosa L.: a natural source of pharmaceuticals.Egypt Pharmaceut J 2018;17:61-66

How to cite this URL:
El-Ansari MA, Ibrahim LF, Sharaf M. Capparis spinosa L.: a natural source of pharmaceuticals. Egypt Pharmaceut J [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 Jul 16 ];17:61-66
Available from:

Full Text


Capparis spinosa L., which is known in Arabic as ‘Kabbar’, is one of the Capparidaceae family members. Caper genus contains more than 250 species, which are widely distributed throughout the different habitats ranging from Morocco to Crimea, Armenia and Iran [1],[2]. Different parts of C. spinosa have been used as a traditional herbal remedy that has beneficial effects on human health.

The whole plant has been used for the treatment of rheumatism and as antimicrobial herbal source. Roots have been used as diuretic and against gastrointestinal problems and also to treat fever, rheumatism, paralysis, toothache, and kill worms in the ear. Bark root, which has a pungent taste, has been used as an appetizer, astringent, tonic, and antidiarrheic and to treat hemorrhoids and spleen diseases. Bark has also been used for gout and rheumatism, as expectorant and against chest diseases. An infusion of stem and root bark was used as antidiarrheic and febrifuge. Fresh fruits have been traditionally used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, sciatica, and dropsy. Dried and powdered fruit combined with honey was used against colds, rheumatism, gout, sciatica, and backache. As a decoction, it was used for gastric pain and has been applied on the whole body to reduce severity of epilepsy seizers.

Seeds have been used against feminine sterility and dysmenorrhea and as antiproliferative and as HIV-1 reverse transcriptase inhibitor. Crushed seeds were used for ulcers, scrofula, and ganglions. The crushed leaves were applied as a poultice on the front against headache and to relieve toothache as well as an anti-inflammatory agent [3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10].


Preliminary screening of the alcoholic extract of C. spinosa revealed the presence of many biologically active chemical groups including alkaloids, glycosides, carbohydrates, tannins, phenolics, flavonoids, triterpenoids, volatile oil, and fatty acid, whereas the aqueous extract showed the presence of steroids, glycosides, carbohydrates, flavonoids, and saponins [11],[12],[13].

 Biological activity

As there is insignificant scientific evidence regarding acute, subacute, and chronic toxicity owing to the usage of C. spinosa, it is considered a very imperative and safe herbal medicine used as antihyperlipidemic, antihypertensive, antihepatotoxic, and as a potential of source of inhibitory bioactive compounds used in the traditional medicine such as antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, nuclear factor-κB, and anticarcinogenic [6],[14],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20]. In ancient times, people used roots, leaves, buds, fruits, bark, and seeds of C. spinosa for several medicinal purposes and to treat diseases such as rheumatism, stomach problems, headache, and toothache. [Table 1] represents the use of C. spinosa by people in ancient times.{Table 1}

The different parts of the plant include a wide variety of active secondary metabolites endowed with several documented biological activities used in the traditional medicine. The pharmacological properties of these parts are tabulated in [Table 2].{Table 2}

Although frequently phytochemicals act synergistically with other compounds in the plants, instead of working alone, many chemical constituents were isolated from C. spinosa [25],[26],[27]. Some of them showed a wide variety of biological activities. Searching the available sources, and to the best of our knowledge, a summary of the compounds naturally isolated from C. spinosa and showed biological activity are presented in [Table 3].{Table 3}


The different health promotion activities of C. spinosa makes it a good candidate for discovering a new series of naturally originated drugs.

C. spinosa L. has a wide range of applications in the traditional medicine. Recently, the pharmacology and chemistry of this plant have been extensively studied. Chemical studies of the different parts of C. spinosa have shown the presence of many beneficial compounds. Biological studies have revealed significant antidiabetic, antimicrobial, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antiviral activities, providing a support to traditional medicinal uses. Nevertheless, despite its importance and variable pharmacological studies available, future experimental and clinical trials are necessary to confirm the use of this species in medical practice [82].

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1Hall CJ, Systma JK, Iltis HH. Phylogeny of Capparaceae and Brassicaceae based on chloroplast seauence data. Am J Bot 2002; 89:1826–1842.
2Inocencio C, Rivera D, Obon C, Alcaraz F, Barrena JA. A systematic revision of Capparis section Capparis (Capparaceae). Ann Missouri Bot Gard 2006; 93:122–149.
3Cooremans B. An unexpected discovery in Medieval Bruges (Flanders, Belgium): seeds of the caper (Capparis spinosa L.). Env Archaeol 1999; 4:97–101.
4Afsharypuor S, Jeiran K, Jazy AA. First investigation of the flavour profiles of leaf, ripe fruit and root of Capparis spinosa var. mucronifolia from Iran. Pharm Acta Helvetiae 1989; 72:307–309.
5Jiang HE, Li X, Ferguson DK, Wang YF, Liu CJ, Li CS. The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai Tombs, NW China, and its Medicinal Implications. J Ethnopharmacol 2007; 113:409–420.
6Zhou H, Jian R, Kang J, Huang X, Li Y, Zhuang C. Anti-inflammatory effects of caper (Capparis spinosa L.) fruit aqueous extract and the isolation of main phytochemicals. J Agric Food Chem 2010; 58:12717–12721.
7Yang T, Liu YQ, Wang CH, Wang ZT. Advances on investigation of chemical constituents, pharmacological activities and clinical applications of Capparis spinosa. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 2008; 33:2453–2458.
8Chopra RN, Chopra IC, Handa KL, Kapur LD. Indigenous drugs of India. Calcutta: UN Dhar and Sons Pvt Ltd; 1950.
9Kirtikar KR, Basu BD. Indian medicinal plants. Allahabad: Lalit Mohan Publication; 1993. 1:197–198.
10Mustafa FAA. In vitro evaluation of Capparis spinosa against Lumbricus terrestris (Annelida). Parasitol United J 2011; 5:199–202.
11Fu XP, Alsa HA, Abdurahim M, Yill A, Aripova SF, Tashkhodzhaev B. Chemical composition of Capparis spinosa fruit. Chem Nat Compd 2007; 43:181–183.
12Muhaidat RM, Al-Qudah MA, Al-Shayeb AS, Jacob JH, Al-Jaber HI, Hussein EI et al. Chemical profile and antibacterial activity of crude fractions and essential oils of Capparis ovata Desf and Capparis spinosa L. (Capparaceae). Int J Integ Biol 2013; 14:39–47.
13Harsha N, Sridevi V, Chandana Lakshmi MVV, Rani K, Vani NDS. Phytochemical analysis of some selected spices. Int J Innov Res Sci Eng Technol 2013; 2:6618–6621.
14Ali-Shtayeh MS, Abu Ghdeib SL. Antifungal activity of plant extracts against dermatophytes. Mycoses 1999; 42:665–672.
15Al-Said MS, Abdelsattar EA, Khalifa SI, El-feraly FS. Isolation and identification of an anti-inflammatory principle from Capparis spinosa. Pharmazie 1988; 43:640–641.
16Eddouks M, Lemhadri A, Michel JB. Hypolipidemic activity of aqueous extract of Capparis spinosa L. in normal and diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol 2005; 98:345–350.
17Baytop P. Therapy with medicinal plants (past and present). Istanbul: Istanbul University Publications; 1984.
18Gadgoli C, Mishra SH. Antihepatotoxic activity of p-methoxy benzoic acid from Capparis spinosa. J Ethnopharmacol 1999; 66:187–192.
19Zhou HF, Xie C, Jian R, Kang J, Li Y, Zhuang CL et al. Biflavonoids from Caper (Capparis spinosa L.) fruits and their effects in inhibiting NF-kappa B activation. J Agric Food Chem 2011; 59:3060–3065.
20Kulisic-Bilusic T, Schmöller I, Schnäbele K, Siracusa L, Ruberto G. The anti-carcinogenic potential of essential oil and aqueous infusion from caper (Capparis spinosa L.). Food Chem 2012; 132:261–267.
21Al-Antaki D. Tadhkirat ulali-albab wa-jami al-ujab (Arabic). Cairo: Press 1935. 266.
22Ibn S. Kitab al-Qanun Tibb (Arabic). Beirut: Al-Munthanna Library; 1877. p. 343.
23Rivera D, Inocencio C, Obon C, Alcaraz F. Review of food and medicinal uses of Capparis L. subgenus Capparis (Capparidaceae). Econ Bot 2003; 57:515–534.
24Moufid A, Farid O, Eddouks M. Pharmacological properties of Capparis spinosa Linn. Int J Diabetol Vasc Dis Res 2015; 3:99–104.
25Nizar T, Walid E, Ezzeddin S, Abdelhamid K, Saida T, Nizr N. The caper (Capparis L.): ethnopharmacology, phytochemical and pharmacological properties. Fitoterapia 2011; 82: 93–101.
26Sharaf M, El-Ansari MA, Saleh NAM. Quercetin triglycoside from Capparis spinosa. Fitoterapia 2000; 7:46–49.
27Sharaf M, El-Ansari MA, Saleh NAM. Flavonoids of four cleome and three Capparis species. Biochem Syst Ecol 1997; 25:161–166.
28Calderon-Montaño JM, Burgos-Moron E, Perez-Guerrero C, Lopez-Lazaro M. A review on the dietary flavonoid kaempferol. Mini Rev Med Chem 2011; 11:298–344.
29Meyer JJ, Afolayan AJ, Taylor MB, Erasmus D. Antiviral activityof galangin isolated from the aerial parts of Helichrysum aureonitens. J Ethnopharmacol 1997; 56:165–169.
30Williams RJ, Spencer JP, Rice-Evans C. Flavonoids: antioxidants or signalling molecules. Free Radic Biol Med 2004; 36:838–849.
31Selway JWT. Antiviral activity of flavones and flavans. In: Cody V, Middleton E, Harborne JB, editors. Plant flavonoids in biology and medicine: biochemical, pharmacological, and structure − activity relationships. New York, NY: Alan R. Liss Inc; 1986.
32Rauha JP, Remes S, Heinonen M, Hopla A, Kahkonen M, Kujala T et al. Antimicrobial effects of Finnish plant extracts containing flavonoids and other phenolic compounds. Int J Food Microbiol 2000; 56:3–12.
33Teresita G, Alejandra ER, Américo OJ, Lilian EP. Anti-inflammatory properties of plant flavonoids. Effects of rutin, quercetin and hesperidin on adjuvant arthritis in rat. J Farmaco 2001; 56:683–687.
34James AD, Mary Jo B-G, Judi du C, Peggy-Ann KD. CRC handboook of medicinal spices. Boca Raton, London, New York, Washington: CRC Press 2003.
35Choi DY, Lee JY, Woo ER, Kim YG. Chrysoeriol potently inhibits the induction of nitric oxide synthase by blocking AP-1 activation. J Biomed Sci 2005; 12:949–959.
36Jnawali HN, Lee E, Jeong Ki-W, Shin A, Heo T-S, Kim Y. Anti-inflammatory activity of rhamnetin and a model of its binding to C-Jun NH2-Terminal Kinase 1 and p38 MAPK. J Nat Pro 2014; 77:258–263.
37Ihme N, Kiesewetter H, Jung F, Hoffmann KH, Birk A, Muller A et al. Leg oedema protection from a buckwheat herb tea in patients with chronic venous insufficiency: a single-centre randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1996; 50:443–447.
38Tim TPC, Andrew JL. Antimicrobial activity of flavonoids. Int J Antimicrob Agents 2005; 26:343–356.
39De Sousa E, Zanatta L, Seifriz I, Creczynski-Pasa TB, Pizzolatti MG, Szpoganicz B, Silva FR. Hypoglycemic effect and antioxidant potential of kaempferol-3,7-O-(alpha)-dirhamnoside from Bauhinia forficata leaves. J Nat Prod 2004; 67:829–832.
40Razavi SM, Zahri S, Zarrini G, Nazemiyeh H, Mohammadi S. Biological activity of quercetin-3-O-glucoside, a known plant flavonoid. Russ J Bioorg Chem 2009; 35:376–378.
41Upadhyay RK. Kareel plant: a natural source of medicines and nutrients. Int J Green Pharm 2011; 5:255–265.
42Choi HJ, Kim JH, Lee CH, Ahn YJ, Song JH, Baek SH, Kwon DH. Antiviral activity of quercetin 7-rhamnoside against porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. Antiviral Res 2009; 81:77–81.
43 Harbone JB, Mabry TJ. (editors). The flavonoids. London: Chapman and Hall 1975.
44Sharma B, Salunke R, Balomajumber C, Daniel S, Roy P. Anti-diabetic potential of alkaloid rich fraction from Capparis decidua on diabetic mice. J Ethnopharmacol 2010; 127:457–462.
45Jouad H, Haloui M, Rhiouani H, ElHilaly J, Eddouks M. Ethnobotanical. survey of medicinal plants used for the treatment of diabetes, cardiac and renal diseases in the North Centre Region of Morocco (Fez-Boulemane). J Ethnopharmacol 2001; 77:175–182.
46Karanayi RS, Sinha BN, Rajsekaran A. Protective efficacy of Cappris zeylonica Linn. Leaf extract on gastric lesions in experimental animals. Avicenna J Med Biotechnol 2011; 3:31–35.
47Caboni P, Sarais G, Aissani N, Tocco G, Sasanelli N, Liori B et al. Nematicidal activity of 2-thiophenecarboxaldehyde and methylisothiocyanate from caper (Capparis spinosa) against Meloidogyne incognita. J Agric Food Chem 2012; 60:7345–7351.
48Lin CM, Kim J, Du WX, Wei CI. Bactericidal activity of isothiocyanate against pathogens on fresh produce. J Food Prot 2000; 63:25–30.
49Greenhalgh JR, Mitchell ND. The involvement of flavour volatiles in the resistance to downy mildew of wild and cultivated forms of Brassica oleracea. New Phytol 1976; 77:391–398.
50Nadarajah D, Han JH, Holley RA. Use of mustard flour to inactivate Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef under nitrogen flushed packaging. Int J Food Microbiol 2005; 99:257–267.
51Mennicke WH, Gorler K, Krumbiegel G, Lorenz D, Rittmann N. Studies on the metabolism and excretion of benzyl isothiocyanate in man. Xenobiotica 1988; 18:441–447.
52Haifeng Z, Renji J, Jie K, Xiaoling H, Yan L, Changlong Z et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of Caper (Capparis spinosa L.) fruit aqueous extract and the isolation of main phytochemicals. J Agric Food Chem 2010; 58:12717–12721.
53Fu XP, Aisa HA, Abdurahim M, Yili A, Aripova SF, Tashkhodzhaev B. Chemical composition of Capparis spinosa fruits. Chem Nat Prod 2007; 43:181–183.
54Riella KR, Marinho RR, Santos JS, Pereira-Filho RN, Cardoso JC, Albuquerque-Junior RLC, Thomazzi SM. Anti-inflammatory and cicatrizing activities of thymol, a monoterpene of the essential oil from Lippia gracilis, in rodents. J Ethnopjarmco 2012; 143:656–663.
55Shofran BG, Purrington ST, Breidt F, Fleming HP. Antimicrobial properties of sinigrin and its hydrolysis products. J Food Sci 1998; 63:621–624.
56Feng X, Lu J, Xin H, Zhang L, Wang Y, Tang K. Anti-arthritic active fraction of Capparis spinosa L. fruits and its chemical constituents. Yakugaku Zasshi 2011; 131:423–429.
57Rathee P, Rathee D, Rathee S. In vitro anticancer activity of stachydrine isolated from Capparis decidua on prostate cancer cell lines. Nat Prod Res 2012; 26:1737–1740.
58Saavedra MJ, Borges A, Dias C, Aires A, Bennett RN, Rosa ES, Simoes M. Antimicrobial activity of phenolics and glucosinolate hydrolysis products and their synergy with streptomycin against pathogenic bacteria. Med Chem 2010; 6:174–183.
59Delaquis PJ, Mazza G. Antimicrobial properties of isothiocyanates in food preservation. Food Technol 1995; 49:73–84.
60Foter MJ, Golik AM. Inhibitory properties of horseradish vapors. Food Res 1938; 3:609–613.
61Foter MJ. Bactericidal properties of allyl isothiocyanate and related oils. Food Res 1940; 3:147–151.
62Rhizopoulou S, Psaras GK. Development and structure of droughttolerant leaves of the Mediterranean shrub Capparis spinosa L. Ann Bot 2003; 92:377–383.
63Hensley K, Benaksas EJ, Bolli R, Comp P, Grammas P, Hamdheydari L. New perspectives on vitamin E: γ-tocopherol and carboxyethylhydroxychroman metabolites in biology and medicine. Free Radic Biol Med 2004; 36:1–15.
64Yang T, Wang C, Liu H, Chou G, Cheng X, Wang Z. Anew antioxidant compound from capparis spinosa. Pharm Biol 2010; 48:589–594.
65Wiese S, Wubshet SG, Nielsen J, Staerk D. Coupling HPLC-SPENMR with a microplate-based high-resolution antioxidant assay for efficient analysis of antioxidants in food − validation and proof-of-concept study with caper buds. Food Chem 2013; 141:4010–4018.
66 Iqbal A, Farrukh A, Mohammad O. (editors). Modern phytomedicine: turning medicinal plants into drugs. Germany: WIELY-VCH Verlag Gmbh & Co. KGaA, 2006.
67Bonina F, Puglia C, Ventura D, Aquino R, Tortora S, Sacchi A et al. In vitro antioxidant and in vivo photoprotective effects of a lyophilized extract of Capparis spinosa L buds. J Cosmet Sci 2002; 53:321–335.
68Wahdan HAL. Causes of the antimicrobial activity of honey. Infection 1998; 26:26–31.
69Sova M. Antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of cinnamic acid derivatives. Mini Rev Med Chem 2012; 12:749–767.
70Abaza MS, Bhardwai R, Abbadi G, Afzal M. Syringic acid from Tamarix aucheriana possesses antimitogenic and chemo-sensitizing activities in human colorectal cancer cells. Pharm Biol 2013; 51:1110–1124.
71Jayachandran M, Subramani S, Rantham S, Vinayagam R, Udaiyar M. Syringic acid, a novel natural phenolic acid, normalizes hyperglycemia with special reference to glycoprotein components in experimental diabetic rats. J Acute Dis 2013; 2:304–309.
72Inbathamizh L, Padmini E. Quinic acid as a potent drug candidate for prostate cancer-a comparative pharmacokinetic approach. Asian J Pharm Clin Res 2013; 6:106–112.
73Lam S-K., Ng T-B. A protein with antiproliferative, antifungal and HIV-1 reverse transcriptase inhibitory activities from caper (C. spinosa L.) seeds. Phytomedicine 2009; 16:444–450.
74Yegao C, Junju H, Hong Y, Chen Q, Yanli Z, Liqin W et al. Cytotoxic phenolics from Bulbophyllum odoratissimum. Food Chem 2008; 107:169–173.
75Jasmine C, Akash J, Rohini M, Shikha S. A comprehensive review on biological activities of p-hydroxy benzoic acid and its derivatives. Int J Pharm Sci Rev Res 2013; 22:109–115.
76Khan AK, Rashid R, Fatima N, Mahmood S, Mir S, Khan S et al. pharmacological activities of protocatechuic acid. Acta Pol Pharm 2015; 72:643–650.
77Al-Said MS, Abdelsattar EA, Khalifa SI, el-Feraly FS. Isolation and identification of an anti-inflammatory principle from Capparis spinose L. Pharmazie 1988; 43:640–641.
78Connolly GP, Duley JA. Uridine and its nucleotides: biological actions, therapeutic potentials. Trends Pharmacol Sci 1999; 20:218–225.
79Ewelina K, Ilona W, Martyna K-R, Boguslaw S. Biological evaluation of uridine derivatives of 2-deoxy sugars as potential antiviral compounds against influenza A virus. Int J Mol Sci 2017; 18:1700.
80Jian GT, Yun HW, Ze JD. Synthesis of analogues of flazin, in particular, flazinamide, as promising anti-HIV agents. Chem Biodivers 2008; 5:447–460.
81Avila JL, Rojas T, Avila A, Polegre MA, Robins RK. Biological activity of analogs of guanine and guanosine against American trypanosome and leishmania spp. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1987; 31:447–451.
82Shimizu T, Lin F, Hasegawa M, Okada K, Nojiri H, Yamane H. Purification and identification of naringenin 7-0-methyltransferase, a key enzyme in biosynthesis of flavonoid phytoalexin sakuranetin in rice. J Biol Chem 2012; 287:19315–19325.