Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana, Hamameliadeae. It is also known as spotted alder, winterbloom and snapping hazelnut. The leaves and bark are the parts used. They are distilled as witch hazel water.

The leaves are collected throughout the summer and dried quickly to ensure they do not become discoloured. The bark is collected in the spring after sprouting.

Functions of witch hazel

Witch hazel is an easy to use astringent for common usage. This action is due to the high levels of tannins that occur in the plant and this makes it most useful for bleeding (both internally and externally.

Witch hazel:

  • is a well known remedy for scalds and burns, swelling and inflammation of the skin and to stop bleeding (both internally and externally). It is used to stop bleeding in the lungs, stomach, uterus, and bowels. This means that it is effective with excessive menstruation and uterine blood stagnation, with a feeling of fullness, heaviness and discomfort around a period. Externally, as a decoction, tincture or distilled witch hazel can be applied to cuts and wounds, used as a mouth wash for bleeding gums. It can be used in a lotion for bleeding haemorrhoids. The tannins also speed healing, reduce inflammation (therefore also pain and swelling) and protect the wound against infection.
  • will control diarrhea and aid in the easing of dysentery.
  • is used externally as an ointment to relieve the pain and swelling of varicose veins and phlebitis and to speed the healing of varicose ulcers. A poultice or compress will relieve:
    • burns,
    • swollen or inflamed skin,
    • engorged breasts,
    • bed sores,
    • bruises, and
    • sprains
  • A lotion can be applied to:
    • mosquito bites,
    • to relieve tender aching muscles,
    • as a skin toning lotion to tighten the tissues and reduce broken capillaries.

Notes on witch hazel

  • In one study, researchers compared the anti-inflammatory effects of hydrocortisone cream and witch hazel and chamomile. The hydrocortisone cream came out on top, but nor far ahead of witch hazel. However, witch hazel is less expensive than hydrocortisone but more importantly it does not cause the side effects that can be found with hydrocortisone.
  • Be cautious with the ingestion of large doses of witch hazel as the astringent tannins can cause abdominal distress and possibly liver damage.

Dosages

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 teaspoonful of the dried herb and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times per day.

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

Ointment: witch hazel can be made into an excellent ointment.

References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

Hoffmann, F. and Manning M. 2002, Herbal Medicine and Botanical Medical Fads. The Haworth Press.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books.

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

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