It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that witch hazel has many therapeutic uses. Native Americans and Asians have been using it for thousands of years. It has been used to treat ulcers, diarrhea, skin problems, muscle aches, and more.
What we know as Witch Hazel is actually an extract, or the essential oils of the Winterbloom plant (Hamamelis). 3 species are indigenous to North America, Hamamelis virginia, Hamamelis ovalis, and Hamamelis vernalis. There are only 2 species that occur naturally outside of North America, Hamamelis japonica, in Japan, and Hamamelis mollis in China. All 3 species are used both as medicinal herbs and as ornamental shrubbery. Hamamelis plants have been transplanted all over the world, and are very popular in gardens. Hamamelis is a deciduous shrub, or small tree which can grow from 9′ to over 20′ tall, with a one inch flower. The name Hamamelis literally means, “together with fruit”, alluding to the fact that Hamamelis is one of the few plants that has flowers, along with maturing fruit from the previous year, at the same time. The term, “Witch Hazel” was coined from the Old English word, “wiche”, meaning, “bendable”. It was applied to the name Wiche Elm. American colonists simply transferred the name to the new plants, substituting Hazel for Elm.
The essential oils and extracts are taken from the leaves. Full-strength witch hazel is not readily available to consumers, but it is widely used in the manufacture of over-the-counter- creams and ointments for skin issues like:
You can also find it in aftershaves, skin lotions, and treatments for stings and poison ivy/oak/sumac.
Witch Hazel is a very strong astringent, meaning that it helps to tighten the skin and help it repair damaged cells. It tightens the skin by seeping into the pores, killing any bacteria it finds there, and then reduces the size of the pores, which stretches the skin. Most bottled Hazel had been diluted with isopropyl alcohol, usually by 50%, so it should never be taken internally. It is marketed predominantly as a topical treatment.
Witch Hazel also has antibacterial properties. Witch Hazel contains tannins, which are polyphenols that reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, you will not find any tannins in the diluted drug store Witch Hazel bottles. However, it will still contain all of the flavonoids present in the extract. Flavonoids are also very strong antioxidants. The high flavonoid content of Witch Hazel makes it a good choice for treatment and management of varicose veins, because it increases blood flow. Witch Hazel can be used topically as poultices, eye washes, gargles, compresses, rinses, and cleansers.
Witch Hazel bark, bark powder, and leaves are available from some organic herb shops, such as Mountain Rose Herbs, which will allow you to make your own teas and extracts. Taken internally, Witch Hazel has been used to treat diarrhea, and some digestive disorders, because of the active ingredient catechol.
When used topically, there are no known side-effects from the use of Witch Hazel, save for the odd allergy. Taken internally, in large amounts, Witch Hazel can cause nausea, vomiting, and in extreme cases, possible liver damage. It can also reduce the absorption of other medications you may be using. When used internally, use should be limited to a few ounces per day. You should consult with your physician before using Witch Hazel internally.
Witch Hazel has enough medicinal uses to make it worth keeping some around at all times. It’s very reasonably priced and very effective.
For information purposes only. This article is not to be considered medical advice of any kind, in any way, shape or fashion. If you feel you have a medical issue, seek the advice of a licensed Health Care Professional as soon as possible.