This native shrub is an old and reliable astringent that has been used for internal and external bleeding, cleaning and soothing bruises, curbing diarrhea, relieving the pain of hemorrhoids and stitches after surgery, as well as a variety of aches and complaints. Witch Hazel should always be in your cabinet.
Never drink Witch Hazel purchased from the drug store; it contains an alcohol that is not intended for internal use.
Witch Hazel is a deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to the eastern seaboard of the United States and grows in damp woods from Canada to Georgia and extends to Nebraska. It is cultivated elsewhere for its autumn-blooming flowers and the tree is considered endangered in Minnesota.
It’s a twisted shrub that grows from five to fifteen feet in height with leathery leaves that are shiny green on top and a dull gray on the bottom. The tree stands out in the forest in the autumn, because as other trees begin to lose their leaves, Witch Hazel is covered with golden yellow, threadlike flowers, thus making it appealing to landscapers as an ornamental plant.
Centuries ago, Native Americans drank Witch Hazel tea as a general tonic and used it as a gargle for mouth and throat irritations. They also applied it to small wounds, insect bites and sore muscles and joints. The tribes introduced and shared the numerous medicinal applications of Witch Hazel to the European settlers, who promptly adopted it into their own daily lives.
The name, Witch Hazel, was given to the shrub by the English settlers, who attached their own lore to the American species. Back home in England, the forked twigs of various European trees had been used as divining rods to locate water and minerals, and the twisted, bent branches of the Witch Hazel actually referred to an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to bend" and not at all to magic or broomsticks. In the nineteenth century, an alcoholic extract of Witch Hazel was one of the most popular herbs in the United States; it was a distillation of the bark, twigs and leaves, mixed with alcohol and water. Witch Hazel steam baths were also considered very beneficial in helping to loosen heavy phlegm and coughing it up.
Witch Hazel was officially listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia, and it is still one of the commonest home remedies in America. The bark, leaves and twigs of the plant are used medicinally for internal and external ailments, and its non-toxic, astringent qualities are also highly prized in many cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as soothing ointments and after-shave lotions, etc. Some of the constituents in Witch Hazel include beta-ionone, gallic acid, isoquercitrin, kaempferol, myrcetin, phenol, quercetin, quercetrin, essential oils, saponins, tannins, bitters and resin.
Witch Hazel is a wonderful astringent, and that quality is applied both externally and internally. It is effective in stopping bleeding with a unique kind of astringency whose main focus of action is on the venous system, acting to restore tone, health and vigor throughout the system. The tannin called hamamelitannin has been shown to constrict blood vessels and stem bleeding. Internally, it is one of best remedies for stopping excessive menstruation, hemorrhages from the lungs, stomach, nose, uterus, kidneys and rectum (including bleeding piles).
The same astringent properties are also effective in easing diarrhea, dysentery and mucous discharges, including female congestive conditions of the uterus, cervix and vagina (vaginitis and prolapsus). It is also said to calm an upset stomach.
Witch Hazel is a painkiller and antiseptic that will help to kill bacteria and is used as an effective gargle for sore throats and to keep wounds clean and combat infection.
Witch Hazel is an anti-inflammatory and anesthetic that is included in several over-the-counter preparations (Preparation H and Tucks) that reduce swelling and soothe the discomforts resulting from rectal and vaginal surgery and stitches. It also helps to relieve the pain and inflammation of hemorrhoids and soothes minor burns, sunburn (Eucarin), sores, and inflamed eyes, bedsores, oozing skin disease, eczema and wounds. Witch Hazel may also be used to ease the inflammation of sore muscles or inflamed, irritated sensitive tissues.
The haemostatic properties of Witch Hazel's tannin (hamamelitannin) constricts blood vessels and helps to stem bleeding from abrasions and scratches and is beneficial for varicose veins and phlebitis. Witch Hazel is also used to help dry out cold sores.
Witch Hazel is a complement for fine skin care. It helps to smooth wrinkles, cleanse and tone the skin and prevent oily buildup on the tissues of the skin. Its antiseptic properties help to keep skin clear of pimples and acne and heal wounds. Witch Hazel is included in many soothing aftershaves.