Medicinal plants have been known as one of the most important therapeutic agents since ancient times. During the last two decades, much attention has been paid to the health-promoting effects of edible medicinal plants, because of multiple beneficial effects and negligible adverse effects. Capparis spinosa L. is one of the most common medicinal plants, used widely in different parts of the world to treat numerous human diseases. This paper aims to critically review the available scientific literature regarding the health-promoting effects of C. spinosa, its traditional uses, cultivation protocols and phytochemical constituents. Recently, a wide range of evidence has shown that this plant possesses different biological effects, including antioxidant, anticancer and antibacterial effects. Phytochemical analysis shows that C. spinosa has high quantities of bioactive constituents, including polyphenolic compounds, which are responsible for its health-promoting effects, although many of these substances are present in low concentrations and significant changes in their content occur during processing. In addition, there is negligible scientific evidence regarding any adverse effects. Different health promotion activities, as well as tremendous diversity of active constituents, make C. spinosa a good candidate for discovering new drugs. However these findings are still in its infancy and future experimental and clinical studies are needed. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.