What is the herb Caper
Capers are part of the Mediterranean diet along with olives, grapes, almond, pistachio, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and garlic.
At Jekka’s we grow Capparis spinosa var. inermis, commonly called the Spineless caper. This caper is half hardy semi deciduous, evergreen shrub with masses of edible green buds followed by solitary pinkish white four petalled flowers with long pink/purple stamen from early summer until autumn.
Capparis spinosa var. inermis
Background, meaning, mythology
Capers have been a part of the food since ancient times. In Biblical times, the caper berry was apparently supposed to have aphrodisiac properties; the Hebrew word aviyyonah for caperberry is closely linked to the Hebrew root avah, meaning "desire". The caper was also supposedly used as a carminative in ancient Greece and as a spice by the Romans.
How to grow Caper plants
For best results from seed use fresh caper seeds. Sow them straight from a ripe pod, into prepared seed tray and then place in a heated propagator at 18C. However, be warned, germination is erratic. Alternatively, Jekka has found that the most consistent method is to raise plants from cuttings taken from the new growth in spring.
A simple rule of thumb is that the caper bush can be planted where the olive tree grows. It will thrive when planted in lean, well-drained soil in a hot, sunny location with little or no water. In both the spring and autumn, Jekka recommends adding a good fertiliser and organic material mixed into the soil. Capers are ideal as a pot plant for those living in a damp cold climate.
Jekka’s top tips are to reshape in the autumn, protect the plant in winter, when you should also keep watering to the absolute minimum, and to repot in the spring using a loam potting compost mixed in equal parts with horticultural grit, or standard perlite.
Capparis spinosa var. inermis pod and seeds
How to harvesting and use Capers
Caper flower buds are bright green and tightly closed, the smallest have the best flavour. The flower buds are picked from early summer until early autumn while the bud is still tight. When eaten fresh, they do not taste particularly good, the flavour comes only after they have been pickled.
Caper berry flavour is best once they have been pickled or preserved in brine. You should harvest the berries and seed pods, when they are still firm to the touch in early autumn.
Caper leaves have a lighter salt and acidity flavour compared to berries and flower buds. If you think that capers overpower a dish or are simply in the mood for something more delicate, leaves are a really elegant option.
Caper leaves can be used in used in salads, such as Jekka’s roasted peppers with capers and caper leaves salad below.
Capparis spinosa var. inermis
Roasted peppers with capers and caper leaves salad
- 3-4 large red and orange bell peppers
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Zest of 1 lemon cut off in strips
- Fine sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil, approximately 1/2 cup, but I don’t actually measure it
- Black Pepper
- Caper leaves
- Scorch and char the peppers either over a gas hob, with a blow torch or in an oven under the grill.
- Immediately enclose either in foil or a bowl. Cover and let sit until cooled to room temperature.
- Peel the peppers and remove all seeds and ribs. Do not rinse them under water. This removes too much of the flavour.
- Place the peppers on a platter and add the garlic slices, lemon zest, and a light sprinkle of salt. Pour a generous amount of olive oil over the peppers and let them sit for a while; ideally an hour.
- Add a few grinds of pepper, strew on the capers and the caper leaves.
Want to know more?
You can find more about herbs in Jekka’s blog, our past newsletters and videos as well as Jekka's book 'A Pocketful of Herbs' or Jekka's Complete Herb Book, browsing Jekkapedia and exploring our herb based recipes.
Jekka's Herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October), Thyme (November) and Curry Tree (December).
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs. Alternatively, buy Jekka’s Herb Calendar.
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.