Witch Hazel {Hamamelis virginiana} & Witch Hazel – Part ll, A Cooling, Soothing Astringent.

Witchhazel1244_700x465Common Name: Witch Hazel
Description: Deciduous shrub or small tree, 8 to 15 feet tall, with long, forking branches; bright yellow, thread-like flowers; coarsely toothed leaves turn bright yellow in fall.
Hardiness: To Zone 5
Family: Hamamelidaceae
Flowering: Early autumn
Parts Used: Twigs, leaves, and bark
Range/Habitat: Eastern and central North America; moist woods and stream banks.
This large, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree grows wild in eastern North American woodlands and along stream beds. Although witch hazel appears rather nondescript in summer, it shines in fall, when leaves turn golden yellow, and its fragrant yellow flowers appear as late as December.
Native Americans found many medicinal uses for this plant – as a pain reliever, cold remedy, treatment for skin irritations, and much more. Some groups also attribute certain supernatural powers to the plant: The Mohegans, for instance, used the shrub’s pliable forked branches tp locate hidden water supplies and buried treasures. European settlers used the plant in similar ways. The plant’s common name derives from the Old English word wych, meaning “pliant.”
Medicinal Use:
Witch hazel is valued as an astringent, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Native Americans prepared a leaf or bark tea that they used as a general tonic, cough-and-cold remedy, and rinse for mouth or throat irritations. Soaking the leaves and twigs yielded a soothing extract, which they applied as a compress or wash to cuts, bruises, insect bites, rashes, and other skin irritations, as well as for eye inflammation, headache, and muscle and joint pain.
Today, witch hazel is a common ingredient in many personal-care products, including deodorants, aftershave lotions, disposable wipes, soaps, and body creams. Witch hazel is usually applied topically to treat superficial cuts, hemorrhoids, and insect bites.
Caution: Used internally, witch hazel can irritate your stomach.
Ornamental Use:
With fall blooms and bright fall foliage, witch hazel makes a striking addition to naturalistic plantings and shrub borders in your landscape. The Chinese species Hamamelis mollis and Chinese-Japanese hybrids {H. x intermedia} include many outstanding garden cultivars with fragrant golden, copper, or red flowers. Most of the hybrids bloom a bit later {January to March} than the native American species.
How To Grow Witch Hazel:
Witch hazel flourishes in partial shade and moist, rich soil with a neutral to acid pH. Plant nursery-grown shrubs in spring. Propagate by seed or by layering. To improve the germination of collected seeds, keep them at 70 degrees for 2 months, then chill them at 40 degrees for 3 more months before planting.

witch-hazel-acne-2Witch Hazel – Part ll, A Cooling, Soothing Astringent.

Also known as: Winterbloom, snapping hazelnut, and hamamelis.
Genus and species: Hamamelis virginiana
Family: Hamamelidaceae
Parts Used: Leaves and bark.
The next time someone you know pooh-poohs herbal healing, ask what the person thinks of witch hazel. The clear, pungent liquid extract of this bushy herb is a standard home remedy for cuts, bruises, hemorrhoids, and other minor skin conditions. More than 1 million gallons of witch hazel are sold each year in the United States, making it one of the nation’s most widely used healing herb.
The “hazel” in the herb’s name comes from its similarity to the common hazelnut. As for the “witch” some say that early colonists used the shrub to make brooms, witches’ favorite form of transportation. Others trace it to witch hazel’s winter flowering and the loud “pop” when it disperses its seeds, supposedly evidence of occult influence. Still others claim that the shrub’s forked branches were used by dousers looking for water and that dousing was once associated with witchcraft.
Healing History
Witch hazel was highly valued in Native American medicine. Many tribes rubbed a decoction of the herb on cuts, bruises, insect bites, aching joints, sore muscles, and sore backs. They also drank witch hazel tea to stop internal bleeding, prevent miscarriages, and treat colds, fevers, sore throats, and menstrual pain.
The colonists adopted witch hazel, but the herb was not very popular until the 1840’s, when a medicine man of the Oneida tribe reportedly introduced the plant to Theron T. Pond of Utica, New York. Pond was impressed with the plant’s astringent properties and its ability to treat burns, boils, wounds, and hemorrhoids. In 1848, he began marketing witch hazel extract as Pond’s Golden Treasure. Later, the name was changed to Pond’s Extract, and the product became a big hit. Witch hazel water has been with us ever since.
Early witch hazel water was simply a strained decoction of the shrub’s leaves and twigs that contained tannins, which made the extract highly astringent. By the late 19th century, manufacturers switched to steam distillation, a simpler process but one that left the resulting water with little if any of the plant’s astringent tannins. That’s when the controversy erupted.
King’s American Dispensatory {1898}, the text used by Eclectic physicians, forerunners of today’s naturopaths, asserted: “The decoction is very useful in hemorrhage, diarrhea, dysentery, swellings, inflammation, tumors, hemorrhoids, epistaxis {nosebleed}, and uterine hemorrhage following delivery…{However} since the introduction of the distilled extract {witch hazel} has been largely abandoned…The fluid extract has little to recommend it.”
Nonetheless, witch hazel was listed as an astringent and anti-inflammatory in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, a standard drug reference, from 1862 through 1916 and in the National Formulary, the pharmacist’s reference, from 1916 to 1955. The National Formulary finally dropped it because in 1947, the 24th edition of The Dispensatory of the United States stated that witch hazel “is so nearly destitute of medicinal virtues, it scarcely deserves official recognition…{Its continued use serves only to fill} the need in American families for an embrocation {liniment} which appeals to the psychic influence of faith.”
Yet today, witch hazel can be found on the shelves of every pharmacy. Contemporary herbalists sidestep the controversy by recommending only the decoction of witch hazel bark, which contains astringent tannins. They are unanimous in their praise of the herb’s cooling, astringent action when used externally for cuts, burns, scalds, bruises, inflammation, and hemorrhoids. They recommend it as a gargle for sore throat and sore in the mouth and internally to treat diarrhea.
Therapeutic Uses:
While it’s true that steam-distilled witch hazel water contains no astringent tannins, several studies show that it still retains astringent action, presumably from other compounds in the plant.
Hemorrhoids and Skin Problems:
Commercial witch hazel water may lack tannins, but it contains other compounds with reported antiseptic, anesthetic, astringent, and anti-inflammatory action. Witch hazel water is an ingredient in Fleet Medicated Wipes for hemorrhoids, Tuck pads, and several over-the-counter treatments for poison ivy, oak, and sumac.
Commission E, the expert panel that evaluates herbal medicines for the German counterpart of the FDA, approves witch hazel for hemorrhoids and skin inflammations.
German researchers gave 30 people with sunburn one of three treatments: a medically inactive placebo cream, a skin cream containing aloe gel and vitamin E {both recommended for skin problems}, or a lotion containing 10 percent witch hazel distillate. Participants applied their treatments three times over a 48-hour period. Although differences in redness were not clearly visible to the naked eye, they were to an instrument called a chromameter- and the witch hazel lotion reduced redness best.
Another German study compared witch hazel with a chamomile preparation and hydro-cortisone, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, in 24 people with sunburn. The hydro-cortisone worked best, but witch hazel was almost as effective and “clearly superior” to the chamomile lotion.
Rx Recommendations:
It’s most convenient to use commercial witch hazel water, which is available in pharmacies.
If you’d like to make an extra-astringent decoction, boil 1 teaspoon of powdered leaves or twigs per cup of water for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Apply the liquid directly or mix it into a skin lotion.
For a bitter, astringent gargle, use 1 teaspoon of bark per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain.
The Safety Factor:
The medical literature contains no reports of harm from using witch hazel externally or as a gargle, but most experts advise against ingesting this herb.
You may use witch hazel externally on anyone, but dilute it for use on children under age 2.
Witch hazel may cause allergic reactions or other unexpected side effects. If any develop, reduce your dose or stop taking it.
If symptoms get worse or persist longer than 2 weeks, consult a health care professional promptly.
Growing Information:
Witch hazel’s Latin name refers to Virginia, but the shrub grows all over the eastern United States. Most commercial witch hazel is grown in the Carolina’s and Tennessee.
Witch hazel is a perennial that drops its leaves each autumn. Its single root sends up several twisting stems that fork into many flexible hairy branches. It blooms long after most other flowers have disappeared- from September to December, depending on location. This is how it got one of its common names, winterbloom. As a late bloomer, it makes a colorful addition to any garden.
The shrub’s spidery yellow flowers appear at the same time that its previous year’s fruits mature. Its woody seed pods burst open with an audible pop and propel their hard black seeds up to 25 feet. The seeds are edible and have been compared with hazelnuts, hence the name snapping hazelnut.
Witch hazel grows from seeds or twig cuttings. Refrigerate seeds at around 40 degrees for several months before planting to encourage germination. Cuttings generally produce roots in about 10 weeks.
Witch hazel grows best in moist, rich, sandy or peaty soil under partial shade, but it tolerates poorer soil and full sun. Harvest the leaves and twigs at any time and dry them.