By Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA (Burning Bush (Euonymus atropurpureus)) [CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Euonymus atropurpureus-Wahoo

Other names: Wahoo, Indian Arrow Wood, Burning Bush, Euonymus caroliniensis Marshall, Euonymus latifolius Marshall, Euonymus tristis Salisb,

Habitat: Eastern N. America – Ontario to Florida, Montana, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Rich woods and thickets, the best specimens are found in deep rich humus soils. Limestone soils, stream bottoms and woods in Texas.

hazardsmallThe fruits, seed and bark are considered to be poisonous. Adverse effects include diarrhoea, vomiting, chills, seizures, syncope and weakness. Toxic in excessive doses. The bark, however, is toxic and should only be used under professional supervision, it should not be given to pregnant women or nursing mothers.

Wahoo was used in various ways as a medicinal herb by the North American Indians, for example as an eye lotion, as a poultice for facial sores and for gynaecological conditions. In current herbalism it is considered to be a gallbladder remedy with laxative and diuretic properties. The bark, however, is toxic and should only be used under professional supervision, it should not be given to pregnant women or nursing mothers. The stem and root bark is alterative, cardiac, cathartic, cholagogue, diuretic, expectorant, hepatic, laxative, stimulant and tonic. The root bark is the part normally used, though bark from the stems is sometimes employed as a substitute. In small doses it stimulates the appetite, in larger doses it irritates the intestines. The bark is especially useful in the treatment of biliousness and liver disorders which follow or accompany fevers and for treating various skin disorders such as eczema which could arise from poor liver and gallbladder function. It is also used as a tea in the treatment of malaria, liver congestion, constipation etc. The powdered bark, applied to the scalp, was believed to eliminate dandruff. The bark and the root contain digitoxin and have a digitalis-like effect on the heart. They have been used in the treatment of heart conditions.  A tea made from the roots is used in cases of uterine prolapse, vomiting of blood, painful urination and stomach-aches. The seed is emetic and strongly laxative.

By Mason Brock (Masebrock).Masebrock at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Description of Wahoo:

Euonymus atropurpureus; Wahoo is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2.5 m (8ft 2in) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower in June, and the seeds ripen in October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

Cultivation of Wahoo:

Thrives in almost any soil, including chalk, it is particularly suited to dry shaded areas. Prefers a well-drained loamy soil. Requires shade from the midday sun. A moderately fast-growing but short-lived tree in the wild.

Propagation of Wahoo:

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed requires 8 – 12 weeks warm followed by 8 – 16 weeks cold stratification and can then be sown in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 – 8cm long taken at a node or with a heel, July/August in a frame. Very easy.

Collection: The bark, which has a sweetish taste, is gathered in the autumn and can be dried for later use. The root is also gathered in the autumn but only when the plant is a few years old and again dried for later use.

Culinary uses of Wahoo:

Edible Parts: Fruit.
Edible Uses: 

Although the fruit has sometimes been eaten, it is considered to be poisonous by some writers and so should definitely be avoided. The fruit is about 15mm in diameter.

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Vol. 2: 491.
Medicinal uses of Wahoo:

Actions: Cholagogue, hepatic, laxative, diuretic, circulatory stimulant.

Part Used: Root bark.

Indications: Wahoo is one of the primary liver herbs. It acts to remove congestion from the liver, allowing the free flow of bile and so helping the digestive process It may be used in the treatment of jaundice and gall-bladder problems such as inflammation and pain or congestion due to stones. It will relieve constipation where this is due to liver or gall-bladder problems. Through its normalizing action upon the liver it may help in a range of skin problems where there is a possible involvement of the liver.

Ellingwood considered it specific for “indigestion with biliousness, constipation, chronic intermittents with cachexia, pulmonary phthisis with night sweats and great weakness; dropsical affections following acute disease; in convalescence from severe intermittent fever; enlargement of the liver; chronic bronchitis.” In addition he recommends it for the following pathologies: malarial cachexia, as a nutritive tonic, as a hepatic stimulant, chronic pulmonary complaints.

Preparations & Dosage of Wahoo:

Decoction: pour a cup of water onto 1/2-1 teaspoonful of the bark. Bring to the boil and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Other uses of Wahoo:


Wood – heavy, hard, tough, very close grained. It weighs 41 lb per cubic foot, but is too small to be of commercial value.

Esoteric uses of Wahoo:

Purification and healing; can be used as a substitute for graveyard dust.

The Chemistry:


  • Cardenolides based on digitoxigenin
  • Alkaloids such as asparagine & atropurpurine
  • Sterols; euonysterol, atropurpurol, homoeuonysterol
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