Spindle Tree

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Spindle Tree

Botanical Name: Euonymus atropurpureus, Euonymus Europoeus (JACQ.)
Family: N.O. Celastraceae

Synonyms: Fusanum. Fusoria. Skewerwood. Prickwood. Gatter. Gatten. Gadrose. Pigwood. Dogwood. Indian Arrowroot. Burning Bush. Wahoo.
(French) Fusain. Bonnet-de-prêtre.
(German) Spindelbaume.
Parts Used: Root, bark, berries.

Description: The Spindle Tree found in our hedges and copses is a smooth-leaved shrub. The leaves have very short stalks, are opposite in pairs and have minute teeth on the margin. It bears small greenish-white flowers, in loose clusters, during May and June, followed by an abundance of fruits. The fruit is three or more lobed, and becomes a beautiful rose-red colour; it bursts when ripe, disclosing ruddy-orange-coloured seeds, which are wrapped in a scarlet arillus. This yields a good yellow dye when boiled in water, and a green one with the addition of alum, but these dyes are fugitive. The berries attract children, but are harmful, for they are strongly emetic and purgative: they have proved fatal to sheep. The bark, leaves and fruit are all injurious, and no animal but the goat will browse upon them.

The Latin name for Spindle is Fusus, and by some of the old writers this plant is called Fusanum and the Fusoria. By the Italians it is still called Fusano. The fruit is given three or four as a dose, as a purgative in rural districts; and the decoction, adding some vinegar, is used as a lotion for mange in horses and cattle. In allusion to the actively irritating properties of the shrub, its name Euonymus is associated with that of Euonyme, the mother of the Furies. In old herbals it is called Skewerwood or prickwood (the latter from its employment as toothpicks), and gatter, gatten, or gadrose. Chaucer, in one of his poems, calls it gaitre. Prior says: Gatter is from the Anglo-Saxon words, gad (a goad) and treow (a tree); gatten is made up of gad again and tan (a twig); and gadrise is from gad and hris (a rod).' The same hardness that fitted it for skewers, spindles, etc., made it useful for the ox-goad. Turner apparently christened the tree Spindle Tree. He says: 'I coulde never learne an Englishe name for it. The Duche men call it in Netherlande, spilboome, that is, spindel-tree, because they use to make spindels of it in that country, and me thynke it may be as well named in English seying we have no other name. . . . I know no goode propertie that this tree hath, saving only it is good to make spindels and brid of cages (bird-cages).' The wood, which is of a light yellow hue, strong, compact and easily worked, fulfils many uses. On the Continent it is used for making pipe-stems, and an excellent charcoal is made from the young shoots, which artists approve for its smoothness, and the ease with which it can be erased. It is also employed in the making of gunpowder.

Cultivation: It is found in woods and hedgerows. The green and variegated Spindle Trees are familiar in British gardens. They all grow freely in any kind of soil, and are easily increased by inserting the ripened tips of the branches, about 3 inches long, into a fine, sandy loam in autumn, keeping them damp and fresh with a frequent spraying overhead. A species from South Europe and another from Japan are cultivated.

Parts Used: The variety of Spindle Tree (Euonymus atropurpureus), common in the eastern United States, is known there as Wahoo, Burning Bush, or Indian Arrowwood. This is the kind generally used in medicine.

It is a shrub about 6 feet high, with a smooth ash-coloured bark, and has small dark purple flowers and leaves purple-tinged at the serrated edges.

Wahoo bark, as it is called commercially, is the dried root-bark of this species.

The root-bark is alone official, but the stem-bark is also collected and used as a substitute.

The root-bark, when dried, is in quilled or curved pieces, 1/12 to 1/6 inch thick, ash-grey, with blackish ridges or patches, outer surface whitish, or slightly tawny and quite smooth. Fracture friable, smooth, whitish, the inner layer appearing tangentially striated. The taste is sweetish, bitter and acrid. It has a very faint, characteristic odour, resembling liquorice.

The stem-bark is in longer quills, with a smooth outer surface, with lichens usually present on it, and a greenish layer under the epidermis.

Constituents: Little is definitely known of the chemical constituents of Euonymus Bark. Its chief constituent is a nearly colourless intensely bitter principle, a resin called Euonymin. There are also present euonic acid, a crystalline glucoside, asparagin, resins, fat, dulcitol, and 14 per cent of ash.

Commercial Euonymin is a powdered extract.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Tonic, alterative, cholagogue, laxative and hepatic stimulant.

In small doses, Euonymin stimulates the appetite and the flow of the gastric juice. In larger doses, it is irritant to the intestine and is cathartic. It has slight diuretic and expectorant effects, but its only use is as a purgative in cases of constipation in which the liver is disordered, and for which it is particularly efficacious. It is specially valuable in liver disorders which follow or accompany fever. It is mildly aperient and causes no nausea, at the same time stimulating the liver somewhat freely, and promoting a free flow of bile.

To make the decoction, add an ounce to a pint of water and boil together slowly. A small wineglassful to be given, when cold, for a dose, two or three times a day.

Of the tincture made with spirit from the bark, 5 to 10 drops may be taken in water or on sugar.

Euonymin is generally given in pill form and in combination with other tonics, laxatives, etc.

Preparations: Fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Powdered extract, B.P. and U.S.P., 2 grains. Euonymin, 1 to 4 grains.

Other Species: The green leaves of one species of Euonymus are said to be eaten by the Arabs to produce watchfulness, and a sprig of it is believed to be - to the person who carries it - a protection from plague. Another species is said to inflict painful wounds.