Caper Spurge

(Euphorbia lathyris) The fruits are quite often used green as a caper substitute (Browning), hence the common name, but it can be dangerous to eat them, poisonous as they are. It is the purging quality that most spurges have that causes trouble, and they have been known to be fatal (Salisbury. 1964). Goats are quite liable to eat quantities of it - then, it is said, their milk had the poisonous properties of the plant (Long. 1924). The toxin is in the milky latex, causing blistering and ulceration on the skin. Ingestion causes severe abdominal pain and nausea, leading to vomiting and diarrhoea, and possibly internal haemorrhage, though death is unlikely (Jordan). Nevertheless, the seeds are emetic and laxative, and some herbals have even recommended them for rheumatism (Schauenberg & Paris), though that sounds rather dangerous. In Chinese medicine, the flowers, seeds and leaves are all prescribed for diarrheoa (F P Smith), but it seems to have been most widely used, if the ascription is correct, in AngloSaxon times; in Cockayne's translation of Apuleius there are listed leechdoms for "sore of the inwards", warts, and even against leprosy ("take heads ... sodden with tar, smear therewith"). Other separate leechdoms quoted are for "thick eyelids", a swelling, fever, and snake-bite.

Cockayne refers to this plant as Springwort. Grimm also associated Euphorbia lathyris with the mystical Springwort, which has the power of opening doors and locks, even medicinal ones - "if anyone is bound by herbs, give him springwort to eat and let him sip holy water ..." (Meaney). (see also SPRINGWORT).

If you plant caper spurge in the garden, it will keep moles away. That is a widespread belief, and may very well be true. Anyway, the practice spread to America, and there they call this plant Mole-plant, or Mole-tree (G B Foster ; Bergen. 1899).

Capsella bursa-pastoris > SHEPHERD'S PURSE

Capsicum annuum > CHILE PEPPER

Capsicum frutescens > TABASCO PEPPER

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