I just located a couple eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus bushes in my backyard. I’m more familiar with seeing the Euonymus americanus species, also called American strawberry bush, bursting-heart, hearts-a-bustin and hearts-bustin’-with-love, but since this has the smooth seed pods rather than the spiky ones I’m thinking it may be the less common Euonymus atropurpureus. Here’s the range for Euonymus atropurpureus:
All parts of the plant are generally considered poisonous with the berries being the most poisonous part. Although many birds and small mammals enjoy munching on them. The plant has been used in traditional medicine in several Native American groups, but again, I don’t recommend using this plant medicinally unless you consult a professional first. In ᏣᎳᎩ the Euonymus americanus is called Tsuwvdunv “they have sinews, they are big” according to William Banks. Banks says this about the traditional uses of “cat’s paw” as it’s sometimes called, from his work “Ethnobotany of the Cherokee”:
“(1) An ingredient in the medicine accompanying Formula 55: ‘For irregular urination.’ (2) Boil for short time the barks of cat’s paw, Liquidambar styraciflua, Vitis aestivalis, Plantanus occidentalis, Fagus grandifolia, Smilax glauca, andNyssa sylvatica – a tea for ‘bad disease’…(3) Drink root steep at bedtime for ‘clapps’ (gonorrhea). It will be cured in three or four days…(4) A warm tea is taken for stomachache…(5) Scrape the bark in springtime and make a tea; rub on for cramps in the ‘veins’…(6) Root tea is drunk for falling of the womb…”
As far as Euonymus atropurpureus goes, here are some of the possible medicinal benefits listed at Plants for a Future:
“Wahoo was used in various ways by the North American Indians, for example as an eye lotion, as a poultice for facial sores and for gynecological 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[4, 21, 46, 61, 222]. 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[4, 254] 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[213, 222]. They have been used in the treatment of heart conditions. The bark, which has a sweetish taste, is gathered in the autumn and can be dried for later use. 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.”
Sources for the above:
F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see ).
Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930’s?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 – 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
Fernald. M. L. Gray’s Manual of Botany.
A bit dated but good and concise flora of the eastern part of N. America.
Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.
Sargent. C. S. Manual of the Trees of N. America.
Two volumes, a comprehensive listing of N. American trees though a bit out of date now. Good details on habitats, some details on plant uses. Not really for the casual reader.
Gordon. A. G. and Rowe. D. C. f. Seed Manual for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.
Very comprehensive guide to growing trees and shrubs from seed. Not for the casual reader.
Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
Vines. R.A. Trees of North Texas
A readable guide to the area, it contains descriptions of the plants and their habitats with quite a bit of information on plant uses.
Elias. T. The Complete Trees of N. America. Field Guide and Natural History.
A very good concise guide. Gives habitats, good descriptions, maps showing distribution and a few of the uses. It also includes the many shrubs that occasionally reach tree proportions.
Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
Diggs, Jnr. G.M.; Lipscomb. B. L. & O’Kennon. R. J Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas
An excellent flora, which is also available on-line.
Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.