Herb: Caper Spurge

Latin name: Euphorbia lathyris

Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)

Medicinal use of Caper Spurge:

Caper spurge was used in the past as a violent purgative, whilst the rubefacient action of the leaves was employed by beggars to raise unsightly sores on their skins to elicit pity and thereby obtain more money. All parts of the plant are emetic and purgative and the plant is nowadays considered to be far too toxic for it to be used medicinally. The latex in the stems has been used externally as a depilatory and to remove corns, but it is too irritant to be used safely. The seed is diuretic, parasiticide and purgative. It has been used in the treatment of dropsy, oedema, tumours, amenorrhoea, schistosomiasis, scabies and snake bites. The fresh seed has an antitumor action, effective against acute lymphocytic and granulocytic leukaemia. The plant has anticancer activity. It is also antiseptic, cathartic, emetic and purgative. Use the plant with caution. One seed capsule is said to cause catharsis, several to cause an abortion.

Description of the plant:


100 cm
(3 1/4 foot)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Woods, avoiding acid soils.

Edible parts of Caper Spurge:

The seed has been used as a substitute for capers. It is very acrid and requires long steeping in salt and water, and afterwards in vinegar. Great caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

A fine clear oil is obtained from the seed. Yields of 42% have been obtained. The oil rapidly goes rancid and acquires a dangerous acrimony. It is a violent poison, producing violent purging and irritation to the intestines. It can be used medicinally when fresh. A latex in the leaves can be converted into vehicle fuel. Reports suggest potential yields of fuel ranging from 5 to 125 barrels per hectare. The growing plant is said to repel mice and moles, this is said to be most effective in its second year of growth though lots of reports cast doubt on this ability.

Propagation of Caper Spurge:

Seed - sow spring in situ. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 3 weeks at 20C.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woods, avoiding acid soils.

Known hazards of Euphorbia lathyris:

The sap contains a latex which is toxic on ingestion and highly irritant externally, causing photosensitive skin reactions and severe inflammation, especially on contact with eyes or open cuts. The toxicity can remain high even in dried plant material. Prolonged and regular contact with the sap is inadvisable because of its carcinogenic nature. The seed is also poisonous.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.