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  • Euonymus atropurpureus L.
  • E. europoeus
  • Celastracaea
  • Staff-tree family

Common Names

herbsBitter ash
herbsBurning bush
herbsIndian arrow
herbsIndian arrowroot
herbsIndian arrow wood
herbsIndian root
herbsSpindle tree
herbsStrawberry tree

Parts Usually Used

Bark and root bark

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Wahoo is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows up to 25 feet high. The bark is gray and its smooth, somewhat quadrangular branches bear opposite, elliptic, pointed leaves that are finely serrate and fine-haired underneath. Axillary cymes of 7 or more purple flowers appear during June. The fruit develops in October and is a scarlet, four-lobed capsule containing brown seeds with scarlet arils. Its most striking appearance is presented in winter, when its pale purple fruits have burst open and been exposed by the fallen leaves, all against a backdrop of glaring snow. It is this appearance which has earned it the nickname of burning bush. Wahoo can be recognized by the unusual structure of its fruit after the leaves drop in the autumn.

For medicinal use, the bark should be gathered in the fall. The fruits may be attractive but they are considered poisonous and should not be used.

Where Found

Found in moist woods and along riverbanks in the eastern United States; as far west as Montana and Texas. Ontario to Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma to North Dakota.

Medicinal Properties

Cholagogue (increases flow of bile to the intestine), alterative, cardiac, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, tonic

Biochemical Information

Bitter principle, euonic acid, crystalline glucoside, asparagins, fat, culvitol, 14% ash and resins.

Legends, Myths and Stories

The name "Wahoo" is a Native American name, most commonly applied to a large shrub or small tree. The name wahoo is also given to an Elm (Ulmus alata) and another variety, Euonymus americanus.

The European settlers didn't take long to pick up the Native American applications of wahoo bark, using it for laxative, diuretic, and tonic effects. Something of a nineteenth century fad developed, and the bark went into various patent medicines and was extremely popular for a time in England. It was listed as an official drug plant. In 1912, a report was published showing the plant produced digitalis-like effect on the heart, boosting the herb's popularity as a heart medicine. But 4 years later wahoo was dropped as an official drug plant, though it continued to be included in the National Formulary until 1947.


Wahoo was a popular diuretic drug during the nineteenth century. It was also recommended for chest and lung congestion, indigestion, excellent laxative, used to treat malaria (better than quinine they say), dropsy, and fever. After the discovery early this century that wahoo has a digitalis-like effect on the heart, it also became popular as a cardiac drug.

It is basically a stomach bitter that removes liver congestion and thus relieves pains and congestion in the chest. A decoction of the bark will stimulate bile flow and have a mild laxative action; and also is useful for treating venereal diseases, uterine discharge, skin ailments and to induce vomiting. It is a remedy for dandruff and scalp problems.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: steep 1 level tsp. bark in 1 cup water for 30 minutes. Take 1/2 to 1 cup an hour before meals for indigestion.

Decoction: 1 oz. bark boiled slowly in a pint of water. When cooled, the decoction is served 2 to 3 times per day in wineglassful doses.

The bark may also be steeped in grain alcohol (not rubbing alcohol) to make a tincture, given in 5-10 drop doses (3-9 gms), usually mixed with water or on sugar.


The leaves, bark, and fruit of wahoo are considered poisonous and can cause various symptoms of poisoning, such as nausea, cold sweats, and prostration.

The fruits may be attractive but they are considered poisonous and should not be used.

Using too much wahoo bark or root bark may result in a severe purgative action.

Should be used under medical supervision.

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