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The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai Tombs (2800 years BP), NW China, and its medicinal implications

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Seed clumps of Capparis spinosa L. together with shoots, leaves and fruits of Cannabis sativa L. were unearthed in the Yanghai Tombs, Turpan District in Xinjiang, China. This is the first time that plant remains of Capparis spinosa have been discovered in China and the eastern part of Central Asia. Based on the joint occurrence of Capparis spinosa and Cannabis sativa, and the pharmacological value of the seeds of Capparis spinosa, it is deduced that caper was utilized for medicinal purposes.
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Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420
The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai
Tombs (2800 years b.p.), NW China, and its medicinal implications
Hong-En Jiang a,b, Xiao Li b, David K. Fergusonc, Yu-Fei Wang a,
Chang-Jiang Liu a, Cheng-Sen Li a,d,
aState Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany,
Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China
bAcademia Turfanica of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Turpan 838000, China
cInstitute of Palaeontology, University of Vienna, Althanstraße 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria
dBeijing Museum of Natural History, Beijing 100050, China
Received 29 June 2006; received in revised form 4 April 2007; accepted 19 June 2007
Available online 4 July 2007
Abstract
Seed clumps of Capparis spinosa L. together with shoots, leaves and fruits of Cannabis sativa L. were unearthed in the Yanghai Tombs, Turpan
District in Xinjiang, China. This is the first time that plant remains of Capparis spinosa have been discovered in China and the eastern part of
Central Asia. Based on the joint occurrence of Capparis spinosa and Cannabis sativa, and the pharmacological value of the seeds of Capparis
spinosa, it is deduced that caper was utilized for medicinal purposes.
© 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Capparis spinosa L.; Palaeoethnobotany; Yanghai Tombs; China
1. Introduction
The genus Capparis L. consists of nearly 80 species which
are grouped into four sections: sect. 1 Capparis, sect. 2 Sodada,
sect. 3 Monostichocalyx, sect. 4 Busbeckea (Jacobs, 1965; Fici,
2004). Of the four sections, only plants from Capparis L. sect.
Capparis have a natural distribution in the temperate zone of
the North Hemisphere of the Old World. To date, the species
number in Capparis L. sect. Capparis is still unresolved. Some
authors are of the opinion that there is more than one species in
this section (Zohary, 1960; St. John, 1965; Wu, 1999; Inocencio
et al., 2002, 2005, 2006). But if one adopts a broader species
concept, and following Jacobs’ taxonomic key, there is only
one species, Capparis spinosa L. in Capparis L. sect. Capparis
(Jacobs, 1965; Higton and Akeroyd, 1991; Fici, 2001, 2004).
This taxonomic treatment is adopted in our paper.
Corresponding author at: State Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolu-
tionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, No. 20, Nan
xin cun, Xiangshan, Beijing 100093, China. Tel.: +86 10 62836436;
fax: +86 10 62593385.
E-mail address: lics@ibcas.ac.cn (C.-S. Li).
Capparis spinosa L. (caper) is the type species of the genus.
It is a spiny, prostrate, and perennial little shrub. It has a wide
distribution in the Old World from South Europe, North and
East Africa, Madagascar, Southwest and Central Asia to Aus-
tralia and Oceania (Jacobs, 1965; Fici, 2004)(Fig. 1). Although
sometimes considered as a weed, Capparis spinosa has a long
history as an archaeophyte. Immature flower buds, unripe fruits
and shoots are consumed as foods or condiments; flower buds,
fruits, seeds, shoots and bark of roots were traditionally used for
pharmacological purposes, especially for rheumatism (Renfrew,
1973; Barbera and Lorenzo, 1984; Rivera et al., 2003). Capparis
spinosa has potential for use in modern cosmetics (Barbera and
Lorenzo, 1984).
The relationship between capers and human beings can be
traced back to the Stone Age. Remains of Capparis spinosa
were unearthed in archaeological sites as early as the lower
Mesolithic (9500–9000 b.p.) (Hansen, 1991). However, there
was only one example of caper consumption with special pur-
pose from archaeological sites. Carbonized flower buds and
unripe fruits were unearthed in a jar at the site of Tell es-Sweyhat,
Syria, dated to about 2400–1400 b.c., and were considered to be
stored as a condiment (Van Zeist and Bakker-Heeres, 1985).
0378-8741/$ – see front matter © 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jep.2007.06.020
410 H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420
Fig. 1. The natural distribution of caper in the Eurasia and North Africa. Based on Inocencio et al. (2006) and Lin (2003).
Was Capparis spinosa used for other purposes ancient times?
We would like to argue that we have found the best-preserved
seeds of caper in the world and the earliest physical evidence
for the medicinal uses of caper seeds 2800 years ago.
2. Materials and methods
The Yanghai Tombs are located south of the Flame Moun-
tains (Huoyan Shan) in the Turpan District, Xinjiang Province
(Fig. 2). There is a hot, arid area with little or no rain during
the whole year. Many mummies and funeral objects have been
well preserved in the archaeological sites. Based on the rela-
tively isolated location, and the type of the tombs, the Yanghai
Tombs were divided into three groups: nos. 1–3 by archaeol-
ogists. Group No. 2 is located in the middle among the three
groups, 300 m in length, and 80 m in width (Fig. 3)(Xinjiang
Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Bureau of Cultural
Relics of Turpan Prefecture, 2004).
Fig. 2. The map of the location of the Yanghai Tombs, Xinjiang, northwest
China. (A) The location of Xinjiang in China. (B) The location of Turpan (the
rectangular area). (C) The location of the Yanghai Tombs.
Fig. 3. The location of the Group No. 1 to No. 3 in the Yanghai Tombs.
The plant remains were collected in Room 213, Group No.
2. The tomb owner was a male (?) of Caucasoid. The gifts were
consisted of a bow, several arrows, a piece of sculptured board,
and five pottery jars, etc. (see detail in Fig. 4). One jar (Spec-
imen number 05SYIIM213:1) was found to contain the seeds
of common millet (Panicum miliaceum L.). Another jar (Spec-
Fig. 4. The line picture of Room 213. (1) Pottery jar (containing Panicum mili-
aceum); (2) pottery jar (containing Capparis spinosa and Cannabis sativa); (3)
pottery jar; (4) pottery jar; (5) wooden bar; (6) arrows; (7) arrow; (8) sculptured
board; (9) arrows; (10) arrow.
H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420 411
Fig. 5. The morphological characters of the plant remains from Capparis spinosa and Cannabis sativa. (A) Clumps of seeds of Capparis spinosa stored in upper
part of the jar. Scale bar= 5.0cm. (B) The appearance of four clumps. Scale bar = 10.0 mm. (C) Individual seeds, showing the elliptical outline, and the protruding,
curved radicle. Scale bar = 2.0mm. (D) The outline of the endosperm and embryo. Scale bar = 2.0 mm. (E) One side of the coiled embryo. Scale bar =1.0 mm. (F)
The other side of the coiled embryo. Scale bar =1.0 mm. (G) The solution of the pulp produced a brown color. Scale bar = 4.0cm. (H) Small shoots, leaves and fruits
of Cannabis sativa stored in the lower part of the jar. Scale bar= 5.0 cm (arrow: some clumps of caper seed adhering to the mixture of Cannabis sativa). (I) Fruits of
Cannabis sativa. Scale bar= 1.0 mm.
imen number 05SYIIM213:2) was found on the left side of the
tomb occupant. There were two kinds of plant remains in that
jar: the upper part consisted of several clumps of seeds from
Capparis spinosa L. (Fig. 5(A)), while the lower part contained
fruits, leaves and shoots of Cannabis sativa L. (Inventory num-
ber 05SYIIM213:2B) (Fig. 5(H) and (I)). The well-preserved
samples gave us an opportunity to study them in detail. The
morphological and anatomical characters of Capparis spinosa
were observed under a HP-800 scanning electron microscope
(SEM) and a stereomicroscope. The samples for dating were
collected from the caper remains, and dated with an accelerator
mass spectrometer (AMS) 14C in Peking University.
3. Results
The Yanghai Tombs belong to the Subeixi Culture, which was
prosperous between 3000 and 2000 b.p., among the nomadic
tribes in the ancient Turpan. The date on the caper remains
showed to be 2620 ±35 14 C years b.p. (about 2800 calendar
years ago) (Table 1). The plant remains of Capparis spinosa
(Inventory number 05SYIIM213:2A) are deposited in the Tur-
pan Museum, Xinjiang, China.
There were 78 clumps and a number of isolated seeds of
Capparis spinosa in the jar with a total weight of 45.24 g. Each
clump represents the contents of a single capsule held together
412 H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420
Fig. 6. SEM micrographs of the characters of the surface from the seeds of caper. (A) SEM micrograph of a seed of Capparis spinosa. Scale bar = 1.0cm. (B) SEM
micrograph of the honeycomb structure of the testa when the outer layer was missing (detail of part 1 from (A)). Scale bar = 75m. (C) SEM micrograph of the
undulate appearance on the dorsal surface of the seed (detail of part 2 from (A)). Scale bar =60 m.
Table 1
Radiocarbon determination of the caper remains
Beta analytic lab number BA07170
14C years b.p. 2620 ±35
Dendrocalibrated 1δage ranges, years b.c. 820–780
Dendrocalibrated 2δage ranges, years b.c. 850–760
by the dried pulp (Fig. 5(B)). The fusiform clumps are normally
1.64–2.38 cm long ( ¯
X=2.02 cm, N= 30), and 0.90–1.40 cm
in diameter ( ¯
X=1.19 cm, N= 30) at the middle. Some seeds
from the outer part of the clumps were seriously damaged,
but the inner ones were still in pristine condition (Fig. 5(B)).
When the clump was disaggregated in water, the seeds became
detached and the solution became red-brown in color (Fig. 5(G)).
The seeds are 2.26–2.70 mm ( ¯
X=2.49 mm, N= 30) long,
1.72–2.10 mm wide ( ¯
X=1.86 mm, N= 30), 1.20–1.50 mm
thick ( ¯
X=1.40 mm, N=30), and 0.341 g per 100 grains.
The seeds are uniform, blackish purple in color, more or less
elliptic in outline, with a protruding, curved radicle (Fig. 5(C)).
At the end of the radicle lies the hilum, and through which many
vascular veins emerge.
The lateral surface of the seed coat is smooth and showed no
remarkable ornamentation. However, both the dorsal and ven-
tral sides are ornamented with minute tubercles in regular rows
(Fig. 6(A)). The surface in these places appears undulate under
SEM (Fig. 6(C)). When the outer part of the seed coat is missing,
the very distinct reticulate honeycomb pattern manifested itself
(Fig. 6(B)).
The seed coat is brittle, 0.10–0.16 mm thick ( ¯
X=0.12 mm,
N= 30). Both albumen and embryo are red-brown in color. The
embryo is asymmetrical, coiled (Fig. 5(E) and (F)), and covered
by a thick layer of albumen (Fig. 5(D)).
4. Discussion
Plant remains of Capparis spinosa have been unearthed
from many archaeological sites (Table 2 and Fig. 7)(Rivera
et al., 2002). Except for examples of the carbonized flower
Fig. 7. Distribution map of archaeobotanical finds of caper in the Old World. (1) Tell Abu Hureyra; (2) Tell Mureybit; (3) Franchti Cave; (4) Nehal Hemar Cave; (5)
Ras Shamra; (6) Tell Asward; (7) Tell es-Sawwan; (8) Jeitun; (9) Choga Mami; (10) Malyan; (11) Es-Sweyhat; (12) Corinth; (13) Yanghai Tombs; (14) Berenike;
(15) Mons Claudiann; (16) Shenshef; (17) Bruge.
H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420 413
Table 2
Archaeobotanical remains of caper in the Old World
Period Site Country Qualities and quantities Preserved condition Added information Reference Site number in Fig. 7
Mesolithic/Neolithic
9500–4000 b.c.
Tell Abu Hureyra Syria Seeds, rare in Mesolithic layer, but
abundant in Neolithic layer
Carbonized Seeds from Mesolithic may be
intrusive from Neolithic levels
Hillman (1975),Moore
et al. (2000)
1
8500–6900 b.c. Tell Mureybit I–IV Syria 138 seeds. Most were more or less
seriously damaged
Carbonized 102 seeds were floated in phase
II
Van Zeist and
Bakker-Heeres (1984b)
2
7500–7000 b.c. Franchti Cave Greece 280 seeds Mostly mineralized, the
others carbonized
Hansen (1991) 3
7100–6000 b.c. Nehal Hemar Cave Israel 8 seeds Dried Seed coat is black Kislev (1988) 4
6500–5750 b.c. Ras Shamra Syria 87 seeds Consisted of carbonized,
semi-charred, and
uncharred seeds
The authors thought that these
seeds were not Neolithic
Van Zeist and
Bakker-Heeres (1984a)
5
6200 b.c. Tell Asward Syria 25 seeds Charred Most had been serious damaged Van Zeist and
Bakker-Heeres (1982)
6
6000 b.c. Tell es-Sawwan Iraq 300 whole or crushed seeds Carbonized Helbaek (1965) 7
5400–5000 b.c. Jeitun Turkmenistan A few seeds Charred Possibly wild food plants Harris et al. (1993) 8
Around 5000 b.c. Choga Mami Iraq 5 seeds Carbonized Samples belongs to Samarra
phase
Helbaek (1972) 9
4000–2000 b.c. Malyan Iran Very small quantities of wood
charcoal
Charred Was considered to be used as
fuel
Miller (1985) 10
2400–1400 b.c. Es-Sweyhat Syria Flower buds and unripe fruits,
quantity unclear. Some fruits and
flower bud still intact, but the
majority fragmented
Carbonized Stored in a jar Van Zeist and
Bakker-Heeres (1985)
11
600–400 b.c. Corinth Greece 1 seed Carbonized Bookidis et al. (1999) 12
800 b.c. Yanghai Tombs China 78 clumps and a number of isolated
seeds, totally 45.24 g
Still fresh Stored in a jar together with
shoots, leaves and fruits of
Cannabis sativa L.
This paper 13
275 b.c.to600a.d. Berenike Egypt Unclear Desiccated Deduced to be used as vegetable Cappers (1999a,b) 14
Late 100–200 a.d. Mons Claudiann Egypt Seeds, occurred in small numbers Desiccated Deduced to be imports from Nile
Valley or beyond.
Van der Veen and
Hamilton-Dyer (1998),
Van der Veen (1999)
15
500–600 a.d. Shenshef Egypt Unclear Desiccated Deduced for used as edible fruits Cappers (1999c) 16
1200–1495 a.d. Bruge Belgium 15 undamaged and some
fragmented seeds
Dried (Cooremans, 2006,
personal communication)
Deduced to be imported from
the Mediterranean region
Cooremans (1999) 17
414 H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420
buds and unripe fruits found in Tell es-Sweyhat, Syria, dated
to about 2400–1400 b.c.(Van Zeist and Bakker-Heeres, 1985),
and some charcoalified wood unearthed from the site of Malyan,
Iran, dated about 4000–2000 b.c.(Miller, 1985), the other caper
remains consisted of only seeds. However, due to storage con-
ditions, most of them were either carbonized (Helbaek, 1966;
Hillman, 1975; Miller, 1992; Harris et al., 1993) or serious dam-
aged (Helbaek, 1966, 1972; Van Zeist and Bakker-Heeres, 1982,
1984b). The seed remains from Nahal Hemar Cave, Israel, dated
about 7100–6000 b.c., include only dry material and showed no
detailed structures (Kislev, 1988). Because of the extremely dry
environment in the past 2800 years, the Yanghai Tombs contain
mummified plant remains in many rooms, like a natural museum.
The exceptionally well-preserved seeds retain the original color
of the seed coat, an intact testa, and detailed structures of the
coiled embryos. The embryo and endosperm are still flexible
and the oil continues to shine under the light of the stereomi-
croscope! Other specimens with coiled embryos were unearthed
in the Tell Mureybit, Syria, dated about 8500–6900 b.c., but the
seeds were carbonized and most of them were “more or less
seriously damaged, resulting in the disappearance of (part of)
the outer and inner seed wall” (Van Zeist and Bakker-Heeres,
1984b). As far as we know, the Yanghai seeds represent the
best-preserved seed remains of Capparis spinosa in the world.
The use of Capparis spinosa may have begun as early as
prehistoric times (Table 3). Reflecting its natural distribution,
most subfossils were unearthed in the Mediterranean area and
the Middle East. Capparis spinosa also has a natural distribution
in Central Asia, and the ancient people were unlikely to have
neglected this important indigenous plant resource. However,
so far caper seed remains have only been unearthed in the Jeitun
(dated about 5400–5000 b.c.), Turkmenistan, in the western part
of Central Asia (Harris et al., 1993), nearly 2700 km from the
Yanghai Tombs. The caper specimens discovered in the Yanghai
Table 3
Historical sources of caper consuming for medicinal purpose
User Scope Period Main uses Reference
Ancient Babylonia
people
Ancient
Babylonia
2300–500 b.c. Plant was used to treat leg pains, poisonings, and difficulties in urination.
The root, shoots, seeds and fruits were used in prescriptions for strangury,
menstruation, saliva
Ibn Sina (1877),
Campbell-Thompson
(1949),Levey (1966)
Pliny Ancient
Roman
1st century Root bark in wine were good for the spleen, as emetic and diuretic; plant in
vinegar and honey were used for expelling the tape worms; plant boiled in
vinegar for mouth ulcers; root bark and leaves with honey were used for
cleaning ulcers; fruits, root bark or seeds in vinegar for pained teeth; roots
bark for taking away white vitiligo spots; root and leaves boiled in oil for
killing worms in the ears or as analgesic for ear ache; flower buds eating
for protecting palsy and spleen ache. Fruits and root bark were used to treat
sciatica and spleen disease
Rivera et al. (2003)
Dioscorides Ancient Greek 1st century Fruits and root bark were used to treat spleen disease, expels urine and
bloody excrement, help the sciatica, good for ruptures and convulsions,
drive out the menstrual discharge and the mucus from the head; root bark
and leaves were used with honey were used for cleaning ulcers; fruits, root
bark or seeds in vinegar for toothache; roots bark was used for taking away
white vitiligo spots; root and leaves kill worms in the ears or as analgesic
for ear ache
Rivera et al. (2003)
Assaph Ancient Egypt 6th century Roots were used to treat all kinds of pains, women afflictions, insanity, and
worms in the ears. It was also used as a diuretic drug, to cure the kidney
and mouth sores, to treat rotting teeth and gums, scorpion stings, wounds
and stomach problems, and also to accelerate menstruation
Muntner (1969)
Al-Kindi Ancient Arab 9th century Root skins were used to bandage the spleen, cure hemorrhoids, and dispel
bad odors spirits
Ibn Sina (1877),
Levey (1966)
Yimaduding
Kashigeri
Ancient
Xinjiang of
China
12th century Root bark was used to curing cough and asthma, kill worms in the
intestine, soothe pain, drive away the mucus. It was also used to cure
paralysis, spleen disease, skin disease, toothache
Anonymous (2005a)
Ben Maimon
Moshe
(Maimonides)
Ancient Egypt 12th century Roots were used to prepare a poultice to bandage a hardened spleen; plant
in vinegar and honey was used for the immediate treatment of an
obstruction in the liver and of kidney stones. The plant was also used to
arouse the appetite, to cleanse and dry the stomach, to clean and open
obstructions in the spleen and liver
Ben-Maimon (1971)
Ibn al-Baytar Ancient
Andalusia
13th century Effective in treating the thigh sinew, but one should be careful of prolonged
treatment
Ibn al-Baytar (1874)
Ajizainule Aitaer Ancient
Xinjiang of
China
14th century Cure scrofula, skin disease, cutaneous ulcer; drive away the mucus Anonymous (2005a)
al-Antaki Daud Ancient Arab 16th century Plants were used to cure wounds and problems of the spleen, liver, kidneys,
and intestines; to counteract poisons, dispel gases; to treat skin diseases,
strengthen teeth, relieve backaches and joint pains, and to eliminate worms
from the ears
al-Antaki (1935)
H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420 415
Table 4
Current traditional uses of caper around the world
User Part or product Main uses Reference
Arabs of Israel Roots, leaves, flowers,
fruits
Cure cough, rheumatism, diabetes, lung disease, hardness of hearing, nerve illnesses, soothe
pains, treat open wounds, pollution, clear the respiratory tract. Also increasing erection, treating
infertility in men and women
Palevitch et al. (1985)
Bischarin Bedouins Fruits Eat as food; cure fever and headache Goodman and Hobbs (1988)
Sinai Bedouins Fruits Cure muscle pains and reduce fever Osborn (1968),Levey (1978)
People in Egypt Seeds Added into wine to keep it from deteriorating; also used as a condiment Renfrew (1987)
Fez-Boulemane and
Tafilalet regions of
Morocco
Fruits Cure diabetic Jouad et al. (2001),Eddouks et al. (2002)
Hawaii Entire plants Repair broken bones Nagata (1971)
People in Indian Root bark, fruits As aperients, tonic, expectorant, helminthic, emmenagogue, analgesic; good in treating
rheumatism, paralysis, toothache, enlarged spleen, tubercular glands, kill worm in the ear, joint
infections, diuretic, snake bite, ear-ache
Ducros (1930),Kiritikar and Basu (1987)
People in Iran Roots, plant skin Head stroke, malaria and joint disease Hooper (1937)
People in Iraq Plants Expectorant, diuretic, stimulant, strengthening drug, and is applied in the treatment of scurvy Al-Rawi and Chakravarty (1964)
People in Israel Thorns Extract leeches from the throats of humans and sheep Dafni (1984)
Jews of Iraq Leaves Cure skin diseases Ben-Ya’akov (1992)
Jews of Yemenite Leaves Cure toothaches Reiani (1963)
Khushmaan Bedouins Fruits Eat as food, for making drink; also making poultice for rheumatism Goodman and Hobbs (1988)
Somali Leaves Chewed to treat coughs Thulin (1993)
Uigurs of China Root bark, leaves,
fruits, and seeds
Cure skin ulcer, spleen disease; sciatica, rheumatism, paralysis, joints disease, facial palsy,
tumefaction of lymph node, versicolor tinea, eczema, drive away the mucus, soothe pains, gout,
frozen shoulder, keloid, psoriasis
Anonymous (1977),Luo and Xie (1999),Ren
(2002),Li et al. (2004a),Li et al. (2004b),
Anonymous (2005a,b)
People in various part
of the world
Yong shoots, leaves,
flower buds and
unripe fruits
Pickled in salt water or vinegar as a condiment; also used in diverse plates of pasta, fish or meat Hill (1952),Uphof (1968),Inocencio et al. (2000)
416 H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420
Table 5
Medicinal uses of caper
Illness/uses Parts and preparation Region/ethnic group and
reference
Historical references World reference
Aperients Root bark India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Bloody excrement Fruits, root bark Ancient Greek (Rivera et al., 2003)
Cold Egypt (Ducros, 1930)
Convulsions Fruits, root bark Ancient Greek (Rivera et al., 2003)
Cough Fruits, leaves Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Ancient Xinjiang, China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
Somali (Thulin, 1993)
Diabetic Fruits Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985); Fez-Boulemane and
Tafilalet regions of Morocco
(Jouad et al., 2001; Eddouks et
al., 2002)
Diuretic Root bark, fruits Ancient Babylonia (Ibn al-Baytar,
1874; Levey, 1966); ancient Egypt
(Muntner, 1969); ancient Roma and
Greek (Rivera et al., 2003)
Iraq (Al-Rawi and
Chakravarty, 1964); India
(Kiritikar and Basu, 1987)
Dispel gases Entire plants Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935)
Ear ache Roots, leaves, plant skin Ancient Roma and Greek (Rivera et
al., 2003)
India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Eczema Root bark Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Emetic Root bark Ancient Roma (Rivera et al., 2003)
Expectorant Root bark Iraq (Al-Rawi and
Chakravarty, 1964); India
(Kiritikar and Basu, 1987)
Facial palsy Root bark Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Fever Fruits Sinai and Bischarin Bedouins
(Osborn, 1968; Levey, 1978;
Goodman and Hobbs, 1988)
Gout Unripe fruits Uigurs of China (Luo and Xie,
1999)
Hardness of hearing Roots Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Head stroke Roots and skin of plant Iran (Hooper, 1937)
Headache Fruits Bischarin Bedouins (Goodman
and Hobbs, 1988)
Helminthic Root bark Ancient Xinjiang, China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Hemorrhoids Ancient Arab (Ibn Sina, 1877; Levey,
1966)
Increase
erection/arouse
sexual desire
Flowers Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Egypt (Ducros, 1930)
Infertility Roots Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Insanity Roots Ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969)
Intestines problems Plants Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935)
Joints disease Root bark Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
India (Ducros, 1930); Iran
(Hooper, 1937)
Kill worm in the ear Root bark, leaves Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Roma and Greek (Rivera et
al., 2003); ancient Egypt (Muntner,
1969); ancient Xinjiang, China
(Anonymous, 2005a);
India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Kidney disease Roots Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969;
Ben-Maimon, 1971)
Leg pains/thigh sinew Plant Ancient Andalusia (Ibn al-Baytar,
1874); ancient Babylonia (Ibn
al-Baytar, 1874; Levey, 1966)
H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420 417
Table 5 (Continued )
Illness/uses Parts and preparation Region/ethnic group and
reference
Historical references World reference
Liver disease Roots Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Egypt (Ben-Maimon, 1971)
Lung disease Fruits Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Malaria Entire plants Iran (Hooper, 1937)
Mucus Roots, fruits Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969);
ancient Xinjiang, China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
Muscle pains Fruits Sinai Bedouins (Osborn, 1968;
Levey, 1978)
Mumps Egypt (Ducros, 1930)
Nerve illnesses Leaves Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Paralysis Root bark, flower buds Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Ancient Roman (Rivera et al., 2003);
ancient Xinjiang of China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
India (Ducros, 1930; Kiritikar
and Basu, 1987)
Periarthritis of the
shoulder
Root bark, leaves and
fruits
Uigurs of China (Ren, 2002)
Poisonings Entire plants Ancient Babylonia (Ibn al-Baytar,
1874; Levey, 1966); ancient Arab
(al-Antaki, 1935)
Repair broken bones Entire plants Hawaii (Nagata, 1971)
Respiratory
disease/asthma
Root bark Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Ancient Xinjiang, China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
Rheumatism Fruits, root bark, and
seeds
Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985); Uigurs of China
(Anonymous, 1977; Zhu, 1996;
Luo and Xie, 1999); Khushmaan
Bedouins (Goodman and Hobbs,
1988)
India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Ruptures Fruits and root bark Ancient Greek (Rivera et al., 2003)
Saliva Roots Ancient Roma (Rivera et al., 2003)
Sciatica Root bark, fruits Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Ancient Greek, ancient Roma
(Rivera et al., 2003)
Scorpion stings Root bark Ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969)
Skin disease and
disorders
Leaves, root bark, fruits Jews of Iraq (Ben-Ya’akov,
1992); Uigurs of China (Li et al.,
2004a,b; Anonymous, 2005a,b)
Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Roman, ancient Greek
(Rivera et al., 2003); ancient
Xinjiang, China (Anonymous,
2005a)
Scurvy Root bark Iraq (Al-Rawi and
Chakravarty, 1964)
Snake bite Fruits, root bark, leaves India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Sooth pains Flowers and root bark Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985); Uigurs of China
(Anonymous, 2005a,b)
Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969);
ancient Xinjiang of China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
Egypt (Ducros, 1930)
Spleen disease Root bark, flower buds,
fruits
Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Ancient Arab (Ibn Sina, 1877;
al-Antaki, 1935; Levey, 1966);
ancient Egypt (Ben-Maimon, 1971);
Ancient Roman, ancient Greek
(Rivera et al., 2003); ancient
Xinjiang, China (Anonymous,
2005a)
India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Stimulant Flowers Iraq (Al-Rawi and
Chakravarty, 1964)
Stomach and appetite
problems
Roots Ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969;
Ben-Maimon, 1971)
Egypt (Ducros, 1930)
Toothache, gum
problems
Leaves, root bark, fruits,
seeds in vinegar
Jews of Yemenite (Reiani, 1963) Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969);
ancient Roman, ancient Greek
(Rivera et al., 2003); ancient Xinjiang
of China (Anonymous, 2005a)
Indian (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987; Ducros, 1930)
418 H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420
Table 5 (Continued )
Illness/uses Parts and preparation Region/ethnic group and
reference
Historical references World reference
Tubercular glands Root bark India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Tumefaction of lymph
node, scrofula
Root bark Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Ancient Xinjiang of China
(Anonymous, 2005a)
Ulcer Root bark and leaves Uigurs of China (Anonymous,
2005a,b)
Ancient Roman, ancient Greek
(Rivera et al., 2003); ancient
Xinjiang, China (Anonymous,
2005a)
Egypt (Ducros, 1930)
Women afflic-
tions/accelerate
menstrua-
tion/emmenagogue
Root, shoots, fruits and
seeds
Ancient Babylonia
(Campbell-Thompson, 1949);
ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969);
ancient Greek (Rivera et al., 2003)
India (Kiritikar and Basu,
1987)
Wounds Leaves, root Arabs of Israel (Palevitch et al.,
1985)
Ancient Arab (al-Antaki, 1935);
ancient Egypt (Muntner, 1969)
Tombs are the first to be unearthed in China, and in the eastern
part of Central Asia. In addition, these specimens extend caper
consumption from Turkmenistan into NW China.
Another important aspect of the caper seeds unearthed from
the Yanghai Tombs is that they were still in clumps and stored
in a pottery jar. To date, nearly all the caper remains consisted
of only a small number of seeds, mixed together with seeds
of cereals or weeds and dispersed at the archaeological sites
(Helbaek, 1965; Harris et al., 1993). So, the significance of those
caper seeds was ambiguous. Did the ancient people use them
consciously or were they just weeds accidentally mixed with
the other fruits or cereals? Due to their preservation state, the
real age of caper seed remains from Ras Shamra, Syria, dated
about 6500–5750 b.c. was doubted by the archaeologists (Van
Zeist and Bakker-Heeres, 1984a); some seeds from Nahal Hemar
excavations were considered to be brought to the cave by its
inhabitants and/or rodents (Kislev, 1988). There was only one
irrefutable example of caper consumption for special purposes.
Carbonized flower buds and unripe fruits were found in a jar
in Tell es-Sweyhat, Syria, dated to about 2400–1400 b.c.(Va n
Zeist and Bakker-Heeres, 1985). Likewise, the plant samples of
Capparis spinosa we found were also contained in a pottery jar,
together with plant remains of Cannabis sativa. Moreover, the
arrangement of the skeleton and funereal objects showed that
they had been left untouched for 2800 years.
5. The medicinal significance of Capparis spinosa L.
The seeds of Capparis spinosa unearthed from archaeolog-
ical sites were usually considered as weeds (Helbaek, 1966;
Hillman, 1975; Van der Veen and Hamilton-Dyer, 1998). How-
ever, the seeds have various uses. Caper seeds are rich in protein,
oil, and fiber, and have a potential as food (Akg¨
ul and ¨
Ozcan,
1999). It has a peppery flavour, and could be used as a condiment.
In Egypt, they were added to wine to keep it from deteriorat-
ing (Renfrew, 1987). Seeds of caper also have medicinal value,
due to the presence of ferulic acid and sinapic acid. The seeds,
boiled in vinegar can be used to relieve toothache (Cooremans,
1999). The other part of caper is also important medicine in Xin-
jiang. In the ancient Xinjiang, root bark of caper was consumed
for curing different illness, including cough, asthma, paraly-
sis, scrofula, toothache, spleen disease, skin disease, and so on
(Anonymous, 2005a). The therapeutic properties of caper were
kept on using to date (Anonymous, 2005a,b). In today Turpan,
when nearly ripe, fruits of capers are collected by the indigenous
(Uigur) pharmacologists as a very important source of medicine
for curing rheumatism (Anonymous, 1977). However, there is
no indication that they were consumed as a medicine in early
history, both from archaeological sites and the written record in
ancient Turpan.
Unlike the other caper seed remains from archaeological
sites, most of the caper remains consisted of clumps of seeds. In
contrast to the material of Van Zeist and Bakker-Heeres (1985),
there was no sign of any fruit wall remains left in the jar. The
well-developed embryos indicate that the seeds were from ripe
fruits. What was the purpose of these seeds? Below the seeds
of caper and in the same jar are fruits, leaves, and shoots of
Cannabis sativa. Plant remains of Cannabis sativa do not appear
to have been used for food/oil or as seeds for mass cultivation.
If so, only the fruits would be preserved. Thus, in the jar which
contains the fruits of common millet (Panicum miliaceum L.),
only the seeds were left and there were no shoots or leaves mixed
in with them. So the ancient Yanghai people appear to have been
careful to prepare the food stuff properly in order to show their
respect for the dead. Moreover, the mixture of shoots, leaves and
fruits of Cannabis sativa unearthed in Room 90 (Specimen num-
ber M90:8), Group No. 1 of the Yanghai Tombs seems to have
been known by the ancient indigenous Yanghai people for its
religious/medicinal value (Jiang et al., 2006). Since Cannabis
sativa and Capparis spinosa are found together, the seeds of
caper do not appear to have been used as a food/condiment or as
seeds for mass cultivation. The significance of the combination
of the two plants may lie in their medicinal value. To date, both
hemp and caper are still important Uigur medicines in Turpan
(Anonymous, 2005a,b). As caper is now an important medicinal
herb with countless uses (Tables 4 and 5), the ancient Yanghai
people may already have been aware of its medicinal value.
The plants which had special value were accredited supernat-
ural status and paid more attention to in prehistoric times. The
therapeutic properties of caper could have been discovered in
H.-E. Jiang et al. / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 113 (2007) 409–420 419
ancient times (Fici and Gianguzzi, 1997)(Table 3). The Assyr-
ian words of samA-SI-A-SI, (sam)(is) NIM and baltu were deduced
to be Capparis spinosa, and were mentioned in connection with
strangury, menstruation, and saliva by the ancient Assyrians
(Campbell-Thompson, 1949). Aspalathus/Aspalathos, which
was discussed in books such as Pliny the Elder’s Natural History
and Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, was identified as Capparis
spinosa by Miller (1995). Its medicinal value was recorded by
these two authors (Pliny and Dioscorides) as early as the first cen-
tury a.d.(Rivera et al., 2002). As Powell (1993 as cited in Miller,
1995) points out, the practice of medicine in ancient Babylonia
was “primarily drug-oriented”. In fact, this sentence fits quite
well not only for ancient Babylonia, but also ancient Turpan.
However, did the ancient Yanghai people use the plant parts
of Cannabis sativa and Capparis spinosa separately or mixed
together? And how did they use these two plants? Further study
will be necessary to answer these questions.
Acknowledgements
The authors are great indebted to Ms. Cong Liu (University
of Chicago, USA) and Mr. Liang-Ren Zhang (University of Cal-
ifornia, Los Angeles, USA) who supplied much of the literature;
thanks to Drs. Silvio Fici (Universita di Palermo, Italy), Naomi
Miller (University of Pennsylvania Museum, USA), George
Willcox (Universit´
e de Lyon II, France), Jules Janick (Purdue
University, USA), Subir Bera (University of Calcuta, India),
Christiane Reck (Turfanforschung Berlin-Brandenburgische
Akademie der Wissenschaften, Germany), Mordechai Kislev
(Bar-Ilan University, Israel), Bin-Xing Li (University of Utah,
USA), Brigitte Cooremans (Flemish Heritage Institute, Brus-
sel, Belgium), Prof. Daniel Zohary (The Hebrew University,
Jerusalem, Israel) who were so kind as to send related references.
This study was supported by the 41th Post Doctoral Founda-
tion (Grant no. 20070411167) of the first author (H.-E. Jiang),
and the grants from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (no.:
KZCX2-SW-118, 2004CB720200).
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... Capparis spinosa is characterized by high morphological and ecological diversity, which led some authors to differentiate several intraspecific variants and taxa [2][3][4][5]. It plays important socio-economic roles in the arid regions of many countries, and is well adapted to high temperatures, intense sunlight, and fluctuating climates [6][7][8]. ...
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The article provides an analysis of the cenopopulation and tissues element composition of the medicinal caper plant Capparis spinosa L. distributed on Calcisols formed on eroded alluvialproluvial gravel textured rocks in the south of the Fergana Valley (Uzbekistan, Central Asia). The predominance of immature plants in the cenopopulation was detected in the Arsif hills massive, and quantitative indicators of micronutrients in the vegetative and generative organs of C. spinosa L. were determined. The study of biomorphological characteristics of the plant during the growing season (April-October) was carried out in the identified 10 observational experimental field populations. The cenopopulation dynamics and plant development patterns of Capparis spinosa L. were characterized for environmental conditions of south Uzbekistan for the first time. Soil, plant element analysis was performed by neutron-activation method. In this case, the samples were irradiated in a nuclear reactor with a neutron flux of 5 × 1013 neutrons/cm2 s, and their quantities were determined in accordance with the half-life of chemical elements. It has also been compared with research materials conducted by world scientists on the importance and pharmacological properties of botanicals in medicine and the food industry, as well as their botanical characteristics. The plant can serve to conserve soil resources, as it prevents water and wind erosion of dense clay soils in the dry subtropical climate of Central Fergana and could be considered an effective agent of destroyed soils remediation. The development of this plant will contribute to the diversification of agriculture in Uzbekistan (Central Asia) and the development of the food industry and pharmacology.
... Jiayi Cemetery and Yuergou Site. Large quantities of plant remains of economic and cultural significance have been identified, such as Vitis vinifera, Cannabis sativa, Artemisia annua, Capparis spinosa, Xanthium strumarium, Lithospermum officinale and various cereal crops[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33]. However, no archaeobotanical remains of alfalfa have been discovered to date. ...
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The study of crop dispersal and their cultivation technique communication can provide a valuable insight into the history of cultural exchange in ancient Eurasia. Previous studies have focused predominantly on the cereals, with few being carried out on fruit, vegetable and forage crops. This paper reports on legume remains found at three tombs of the Astana Cemetery, Turpan, Xinjiang, which dated to the Jin and Tang dynasties (about third to ninth centuries). The exceptional state of preservation of the desiccated remains allowed their unambiguous determination to species level. By comparing the morphological characteristics of the Medicago remains with published references, they were ascribed to Medicago sativa and Medicago lupulina . This is the first archaeobotanical evidence of M. lupulina in China and the earliest relevant physical material so far found. In addition, combined with the record of unearthed documents, our study shed new light on the early history of M. sativa cultivation and use in Turpan and further underlined its important role in cultural exchange between the West and the East in antiquity.
... It has been also reported that fruit extract of caper mixed with sugar ameliorates rheumatism and diarrhea in livestock animals. Antispasmodic, analgesic, antipyretics, tonic, expectorant properties have also been reported by the different researchers in caper plant [15,16,3]. ...
... In Bahrain, fresh caper berries are still eaten by the elderly, whereas in Eastern India, fresh raw caper berries are consumed as an appetizer. Seed clumps of Capparis spinosa L. together with shoots, leaves and fruits has been used in eastern part of Central Asia for medicinal purposes (Jiang et al. 2007). A decoction of Capparis spinosa L. roots, widely used in traditional folk medicine of southern Italy, and heterocyclic compounds were also recovered from the chloroformic extract of the roots, and it showed an interesting bacteriostatic activity on the growth of Deinococcus radiophilus (Boga et al. 2011). ...
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Background Caper ( Capparis spinosa L.) is a common member of the genus Capparis , which is a perennial shrub and thorny, and a common aromatic plant in many parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean regions. Main body The aim of this mini-review was to outline the most significant health benefits of caper in both traditional and modern pharmaceutical medicine. Scientific databases such as PubMed, Science Direct, Scopus, Research Gate, and Google Scholar with emphasis on Science Direct and Scopus have been used. A review of literature was carried out using the keywords caper, Capparis spinosa , health benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, natural products, and caper bush. During the writing of the review, the time period in which the papers were published had not been selected since the focus was on significant researched selected for the areas covered in this mini-review. The main components of its aerial parts are cappariloside A, stachydrin, hypoxanthine, uracil, capparine A, capparine B, flazin, guanosine, 1 H -indole-3-carboxaldehyde, 4-hydroxy-1 H -indole-3-carboxaldehyde, kaempferol, thevetiaflavone, tetrahydroquinoline, rutin, kaempferol-3-glucoside, kaempferol-3-rutinoside, kaempferol-3-rhamnorutinoside, isorhamnetin 3- O -rutinoside, quercetin 3- O -glucoside, ginkgetin, isoginkgetin, sakuranetin and glucocapparin in aerial parts. The main components of root are capparispine, cadabicine 26- O -β-D-glucoside, capparispine 26- O -β-D-glucoside, and stachydrine, seeds contain glucocapparin. Traditional application of caper is for treatment of headache, fever, convulsions, diabetes, toothache, menstruation, skin disease, kidney disease, liver disease, rheumatism, ulcers, hemorrhoids and sciatica. Fruit and leaves have anti-diabetic effects, fruits have anti-obesity, cholesterol-lowering and anti-hypertensive effects, roots, fruits, stem barks and shoots have antimicrobial effects, leaves, roots and fruits contain anti-inflammatory activity, and aerial parts have antihepatotoxic effects. Conclusion On the basis of phytochemical advantages and pharmacological benefits, caper shows its importance as one of the most notable medicinal plant for prevention and treatment of various diseases, however, more researches are need on the usage of caper, especially in modern pharmaceutical science.
... The connection between capers and human beings is ancient that can be linked to the Stone Age. C. spinosa remains were discovered in archaeological areas like the inferior Mesolithic (9500-9000 b. p.) (Moufid and Farid, 2015). The remains of C. spinosa have been explored in China for the very first time and also in the eastern part of Central Asia which favors the use of caper as medicine from the last 2800 years (Jiang et al., 2007). ...
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Capparis spinose L. also known as Caper is of great significance as a traditional medicinal food plant. The present work was targeted on the determination of chemical composition, pharmacological properties, and in-vitro toxicity of methanol and dichloromethane (DCM) extracts of different parts of C. spinosa. Chemical composition was established by determining total bioactive contents and via UHPLC-MS secondary metabolites profiling. For determination of biological activities, antioxidant capacity was determined through DPPH, ABTS, CUPRAC, FRAP, phosphomolybdenum, and metal chelating assays while enzyme inhibition against cholinesterase, tyrosinase, α-amylase and α-glucosidase were also tested. All the extracts were also tested for toxicity against two breast cell lines. The methanolic extracts were found to contain highest total phenolic and flavonoids which is correlated with their significant radical scavenging, cholinesterase, tyrosinase and glucosidase inhibition potential. Whereas DCM extracts showed significant activity for reducing power, phosphomolybdenum, metal chelation, tyrosinase, and α-amylase inhibition activities. The secondary metabolites profiling of both methanolic extracts exposed the presence of 21 different secondary metabolites belonging to glucosinolate, alkaloid, flavonoid, phenol, triterpene, and alkaloid derivatives. The present results tend to validate folklore uses of C. spinose and indicate this plant to be used as a potent source of designing novel bioactive compounds.
... C. Spinosa is one of the plants in Iranian traditional medicine used for reducing pain whose analgesic effects have been reported in several studies. It was initially seen that 50 mg/kg of the fruit extract of this plant entails a good analgesic effect (20,21). The study investigated the gastric ulcerogenecity effect of C. Spinosa extract on rats compared to indomethacin, so the impact of wounding some doses with the same doses of indomethacin was examined. ...
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Background: Several plants are used as analgesic in traditional medicine. Capparis spinosa (C. Spinosa) is widely used for the treatment of gout and rheumatic arthritis. The previous studies have reported the antinociceptive effects of this plant. Objectives: The study was aimed at examining the C. Spinosa’s gastric-ulcerogenecity effect in comparison to indomethacin. Methods: The percolated extract of C. Spinosa and Indomethacin were orally administered to the rats at 50,100, 200, and 400 mg/kg doses, which were slaughtered after 4 hours. The stomach was detached, and 10 mL of 2% formalin was injected into it to fix the gastric wall internal layer. The stomach was then split by cutting along the greater curvature, and the lacerations in the glandular section examined. J-score was used to determine ulcer index. Results: The results indicated that percolated extract of C. Spinosa administered orally in antinociceptive dosage and even 2,4 and 8 folds did not cause a gastric ulcer (J-score = 0) compared to indomethacin (J-score = 46 to 253) (P < 0.05). Conclusions: Concerning the favorable analgesic effect of C. Spinosa and lack of gastric ulcerogenecity effects, it seems to be a suitable choice for more pharmacological and toxicology examinations to use as analgesic.
Chapter
Plant growth regulators (PGRs) are organic compounds widely used in tissue culture. PGRs have always been considered as key components of the culture medium, inducing different morphogenetic responses such as caulogenesis, rhizogenesis and somatic embryogenesis. Auxins, cytokinins and gibberellins are the most important PGR groups used in plant tissue culture. They are used either singly or in combination and are added at different concentrations depending on the species, genotype and explant source. Since the beginning of their use in tissue culture, auxins, cytokinins and gibberellins have been greatly involved in the development of efficient micropropagation systems for Mediterranean fruit species. The present chapter reports and discusses the main effects of auxins, cytokinins and gibberellins in the micropropagation of some economically important fruit crops of the Mediterranean region, namely olive (Olea europaea L.), cactus pear (Opuntia spp.), date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.), argan (Argania spinosa L.), fig (Ficus carica L.), pomegranate (Punica granatum L.), carob (Ceratonia siliqua L.) and caper (Capparis spinosa L.).KeywordsAuxinsCytokininsGibberellinsMediterranean cropsMicropropagationRegeneration
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Chapter
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