Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

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Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

A flexible shrub, of which branches were used originally by Native Americans to make bows.

Family: Hamamelidaceae

Habitat & Cultivation: A late autumn blooming, deciduous, shrub used by Native North Americans for centuries, is mainly found in woodlands, the Ozark Mountains, eastern Oklahoma, Florida and Minnesota. Sun loving perennial, easy to grow from seeds, and slow to germinate – germinate in a pot before planting outdoors.

Constituents: Tannins (catechins – antioxidant properties, causing skin proteins to tighten up on the surface of the skin), Flavanoids (kaempferol, quercetin), Saponins, Bitters, Volatile Oils (eugenol & safrole - leaves only), Choline, Gallic acid, Sterols

Actions: Astringent, Antiseptic, Anti-inflammatory, Antiviral, Analgesic, Antiseptic, Styptic, Stops external & internal bleeding, mild Antibiotic and Sedative

Parts Used: Leaves, Bark, Twigs (rich in tannins)

Traditional Uses: Ointment, Infused Oil, Cream, Lotion, Infusions (Teas), Bath, Compress, Tincture/Extracts (water-distilled, alcohol-based)

  • Cleansing Wounds, Bruises: Are part of our everyday life. Apply a distilled Witch Hazel solution, applying 2-3x/day. 

  • Eczema with Weeping Skin: Experiencing red, inflamed skin, irritation, flaking, scaling or tiny blisters may be caused by an allergic reaction to certain substances. Several reasons may be considered, such as being exposed for a long periods to irritants, or it may be inherited, or its appearance may be simply unknown. In any instance, a consolation with a practitioner is advised. Nonetheless home remedies may ease some symptoms. Applying lotion or cream up to 5x/day onto the affected area. Another alternative is to make a wash by combining 2 tsp of leaves with ¾ (150 ml) cup of water. Simmer the mixture for 15 minutes, strain it and allow it to cool. Apply wash up to 5x/day. To avoid scratching, cover the affected area with a soft, non-irritating material such as cotton. 

  • Skin Rashes: To alleviate itchiness and swelling apply Witch Hazel ointment, or distilled extract 2-4x/day onto the affected area. 

  • Varicose Veins: When supporting walls of the veins bulge out, the pool of blood creates pressure, weakening the vein resulting in a painful, visible vein. Gently apply Witch hazel Oil, or cream, onto the affected area 1-2x/day. Another alternative is to make an herbal blend by combining equal parts of Calendula Oil and Witch Hazel Oil, or creams, and gently massaging it onto the affected area 1-2x/day. 

  • Hemorrhoids: Usually caused by ongoing constipation. Apply either distilled Witch Hazel ointment or cream 1-2x/day onto the affected area. 

  • Localized Swelling caused by Sprains and other Injuries: Apply Witch Hazel cream or ointment up to 2-3x/day. Alternatively, make a compress by combining 1-2 tsp of dried leaves or bark with ¾ (150 ml) of water. Simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes, strain and allow it to cool. Apply the compress 2x/day onto the affected area. 

  • Sunburn, Swollen & Inflamed Joints: Make a compress by combining 1 oz. (25g) of bark with 1 pt. (500 ml) of water. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes, strain it and allow it to cool. Apply compress for about ½ hour throughout the day as needed. Alternatively, apply Witch Hazel Oil onto the affected area 3x/day. 

  • Mouthwash: Mix ¼ cup aloe vera juice (NOT gel) with ¼ cup Witch Hazel distillate, 2 Tbsp. of distilled water, and 1 drop of tea tree, peppermint and spearmint oils. Add the blend into a glass of war water, swish and spit it out. 

  • Diarrhea, Capillary Fragility: Make an infusion (tea) by combining 1 tsp. of leaves with a 1 cup of water. Drink 1 cup 3x/day. 

  • Sore Throat, Mouth Ulcers, Tonsillitis, Pharyngitis, Spongy or Bleeding Gums: Make an infusion (tea) by combining 1 tsp. of leaves with a 1 cup of water. Drink 1 cup 3x/day. 

Making a tincture as an alternative to distilled extract: Combine 1 tsp. (5 ml) of the bark tincture with 1 ¾ fl.oz. (50 ml) of water.

Research: An extract (water-distilled, alcohol-based) of twigs can be found in many drugstores, which has very little potency (containing natural herb). The desired effect is delivered by the large amount of alcohol contained in the product. Tinctures and other herbal preparations are usually stronger than distilled Witch Hazel water.

A clinical study was conducted with 231 children treating diaper rash, inflammation and minor skin injuries using a Witch Hazel ointment. A pharmaceutical ointment was used treating 78 children with similar skin conditions. The symptoms were rated over the course of 7-10 days. It was concluded that both products (herbal ointment and pharmaceutical ointment) improved children’s conditions.

Another study of 72 people focused on severe eczema. Two type of treatments were tested. Application of a cream containing Witch Hazel distillate and a 0.5 % hydrocortisone cream. Both products improved patients’ condition, however the hydrocortisone proved to be more effective.

The plant’s tannins and flavanoids helps to heal damaged blood vessels beneath the skin. Tannins (found in leaves) help to create protective covering which promotes healing of the broken skin and reducing the inflammation.

Clinical trials were held to demonstrate effectiveness of Witch Hazel topical preparations to relieve pain, itching, and bleeding hemorrhoids. The traditional, herbal preparations proved to be as effective as other medications (including corticosteroids).

Caution: Though rarely reported, skin redness and mild-burning sensation on the skin have been noted. Although the plant can be taken internally, the exact quantity of tannins has not been determined. Large quantity of tannins may cause stomach and kidneys issues, or liver damage. They may also interfere with the absorption of minerals and vitamins. Do not take commercial Witch Hazel internally. Do not confuse the plant with Hazelnut bark.

Credits: Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine (Andrew Chevallier), The Complete Medicinal Herbal (Penelope Ody), Healing Remedies (C. Norman Shealy), National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs (Rebecca L. Johnson & Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog & David Kiefer), University of Maryland Medical Center
  • Jana Glanzer
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