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Euonymus atropurpureus (Jacq.)

Synonyms: spindle bark, spindle tree, arrow wood, bitter ash, burning bush, Indian arrow, skewerwood, prickwood

Order: Celastraceae

Description: Euonymous is an erect shrub or slender tree growing in the Eastern and Central United States and Canada. It grows up to 8m high and is found in damp woods and along riverbanks. Its smooth, somewhat quadrangular branches bear opposite, elliptic, pointed leaves that are finely serrate and fine-haired underneath. Axillary cymes of seven or more purple flowers appear during June. The fruit is a scarlet, four-lobed capsule containing brown seeds with scarlet arils.

Parts used: root bark and stem bark

Collection: the bark is stripped from roots that are unearthed in the autumn. 

Constituents: cardenolide glycosides (especially euatroside), small amounts of digitaloids, alkaloids (including asparagine and atropurpurine), phytosterols (euonysterol, homoeuonysterol, atropurpurol), citrullol, sugars, fatty acids, tannin, volatile oil

Actions: cholagogue, laxative, diuretic, mildly cardioactive, circulatory stimulant, hepatic stimulant, mild purgative

Indications: occasional constipation, icterus, cholecystitis, cutaneous eruptions. Specifically indicated in constipation with liver and gallbladder dysfunction.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Euonymus was a popular 19th century diuretic, also recommended for chest and lung congestion, indigestion and fever. It is of benefit in liver congestion, allowing the free flow of bile and so helping the digestive process. It may be used in the treatment of jaundice and gallbladder problems, and in pain or congestion due to gallstones. Its action as a cholagogue is probably due to irritation of the duodenum, causing a reflex contraction of the gallbladder. It relieves constipation where this is due to liver or gallbladder problems. Through its action on the liver it may help a range of skin problems where there is liver involvement. It has a digitalis-like effect on the heart. Its mild cardiotonic action is due to the presence of cardenolide glycosides.

Combinations: Euonymus may be combined with Iris in skin complaints; or with Berberis, Taraxacum rad., Chionanthus and Anemone in liver and gallbladder disease.

Caution: Euonymus is toxic in excessive doses and should not be used during pregnancy and lactation. The leaves and fruit are poisonous.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Regulatory status GSL Schedule 2

Dried root bark: 0.3-1g or by decoction

Liquid Extract: 1:1 in 45% alcohol, 0.3-1ml

Tincture BPC (1949): 0.6-2.6ml

Euonymin BPC (1949): 60-120mg



Bradley, P.R. (ed.) 1992 British Herbal Compendium, Volume 1, BHMA, Bournemouth.

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.


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Last updated 27th November 2014     ęPurple Sage Botanicals