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Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana

Herbs gallery - Witch Hazel



Common names

  • Pistachio
  • Snapping Hazelnut
  • Spotted Alder
  • Striped Alder
  • Tobacco Wood
  • Winterbloom
  • Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a twisted shrub or a small tree. It is a perennial plant that sheds leaves for some time during the year. The bark of witch hazel, which grows up to a height of 15 feet, is normally gray and brownish in color. The shrub or tree bears buds in bunches at the base of the leaves. Witch hazel blossoms from September to November and the flowers have petals that look like twined yellowish straps and they blossom completely after the leaves have shed from the branches. The leaves of witch hazel are asymmetrical at the base and have thin tooth-like protruding at the edges.

Witch hazel usually comes into flower during the autumn after its seeds have ripened in the casings. Interestingly, the capsules or casings of witch hazel split open at the same time the flowers come into view. And what is more striking is the fact that when the seed-bearing capsules of witch hazel rip open, they throw the seeds up to a distance of 20 feet! Owing to its delayed blossoming as well as the volatile bursting of the seed capsules, witch hazel is also known by other names like winterbloom and snapping hazel that describes the shrub's characteristics better.

Witch hazel is available freely in most drug store and can be bought in the form of a liquid tincture. The witch hazel tincture is reasonably priced, safe to use and dependable too. The tincture of witch hazel has multifarious medicinal uses and is beneficial when used externally to heal inflammation of the skin, sunburn, insect bites and stings, bruises, scratches, poison ivy/oak, diaper rash, eczema and bedsores. The tincture of witch hazel may be applied externally either by soaking a cotton ball with some liquid and placing it on the affected area or directly spraying the liquid on the skin with the help of a sprayer bottle.

Witch hazel can also be taken as a tea or used as a gargle to get rid of numerous ailments. Witch hazel tea can be prepared by mixing half a teaspoon each of the shrub's leaves and bark with one pint of boiling water. After the mixing, cover the utensil and keep it away for about 45 minutes allowing the herb's properties to steep in the boiling water. One may either gargle with the witch hazel tea to get relief from sore throat or even drink two cups of the herbal tea to heal diarrhea. The tea is also useful for healing vaginitis when used as a vaginal douche (cleansing the vagina by flushing fluids).

A natural innate of America, witch hazel was introduced to the early settlers by the native Indians as a poultice (a soft, moist mass applied to the skin to provide heat and moisture) to alleviate swelling and irritation. Later, the astringent properties of witch hazel led the people to exploit the different properties of the herb to heal different ailments or disorders that varied from diarrhea to hemorrhoids. Around the middle of the 19th century, herbalists introduced a new and different type of witch hazel preparation to cure different ailments. The new medication was prepared by the distillation of the herb's latent branches with alcohol producing a scented concentrate known as the hamamelis water, distilled witch hazel extract or just simple ‘witch hazel'. The product, meant for healing different skin conditions, is still marketed in huge quantities worldwide.

Tannin is one of the main ingredients of witch hazel. While the witch hazel leaves contain about eight per cent of tannin, its composition in the tree's bark varies from one to three per cent. Scientific researches have established that the tannin present in witch hazel comprises hamamelitannnin as well as a number of other proanthocyanidins. It is very important to note that the hamamelitannnin percentage in the witch hazel plant differs in different parts of the plant. In fact, the bark of witch hazel tree has been found to be 31 times richer in hamamelitannin content than the leaf extract of the herb. The plant also contains a number of other ingredients like flavonoid stains or pigments. Notwithstanding all these, witch hazel's astringent properties or actions, which are of significant medicinal value, are owing to the presence of tannins in the plant.

Scientific researchers have segregated hamamelitannin and proanthocyanidins from witch hazel recently with a view to examine the method of the two substances vis-à-vis their anti-inflammatory actions. During the examinations it was found that some parts of proanthocyanidins slowed down the inflammatory intermediary obtained from arachidonic acid and also held back the formation of platelet activation feature that is also associated in the inciting procedure. Again, some researches have shown that the powerful antioxidant activity against superoxides discharged by numerous enzymes throughout the inflammatory procedure may also be liable for the anti-inflammatory effects of witch hazel. Recently a controlled medical examination matched a tannin free witch hazel concentrate cream up to 0.5 per cent hydrocortisone cream in acute eczema that is allergic as well as hereditary in nature. The study found that the witch hazel cream was equally effective in lessening different syndromes of atopic eczema as its base preparation – the hydrocortisone cream.

People in Europe often consume an intoxicating or alcoholic liquid extract of witch hazel to heal varicose veins (abnormally swollen or knotty veins). Medical examinations carried out on rabbits have shown that when the remedy injected into the animals it leads to constraint of the veins. The researchers have, however, failed to identify the ingredients of this alcoholic liquid extract of witch hazel which leads to the constriction of the veins. Significantly, researches have shown that an alcoholic extract from the witch hazel leaves are more effective in curing the disorder that any ordinary liquid extract from other parts of the herb. This means that anyone consuming witch hazel bark extract tea that is available in the local health stores should not anticipate much effect in constraining the swollen or knotty veins.

Significantly, witch hazel leaves and barks have been the subject of a helpful German Commission E that compiled detailed and documented treatise on the herb's antiphlogistic (ability to counteract inflammation), hemostyptic and astringent (an agent that contracts or shrinks tissues) properties that help in healing disorders including skin injuries, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. It may be mentioned here that the alcoholic extracts from the witch hazel leaves and barks used in different European products are totally dissimilar to the tannin-free witch hazel concentrate available in the American drug stores.

For ages, witch hazel has been a popular remedy for all kinds of blisters and burns, swellings and inflammation of the skin as well as stopping bleeding. Owing to high levels of tannins present in witch hazel tree, the herb has astringent properties which make the plant an excellent medication for stopping all kinds of external and internal bleedings. The astringent property of witch hazel helps the plant extracts to an agent that contracts or shrinks tissues and hence impedes bleeding. Hence, it is not surprising that for ages witch hazel has been used to stop bleeding from the lungs, stomach, uterus as well as bowels. In fact, witch hazel even proves to be beneficial in healing excessive menstruation and uterine blood blockage or clotting. The herb is also helpful in alleviating the feeling of fullness, heaviness and uneasiness during menstruation period.

To heal external problems like cuts and wounds one may apply either a decoction, tincture of distilled witch hazel. The decoction or tincture can also be used as a mouth wash to treat bleeding gums and ointments or creams prepared from witch hazel extracts may be applied to heal bleeding piles. Tannins present in the witch hazel plant also help in rapid healing, reducing pains, irritations or swellings (inflammation) as well as protecting open lesions against infection. In addition, witch hazel is also an effective medication for diarrhea, dysentery, mucous colitis and even respiratory breathing catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membranes with a free discharge). Many herbal practitioners have also used to heal uterine prolapse (falling down or slipping of a body part from its normal position) or incapacitated condition following any miscarriage or childbirth to firm up the uterine muscles.

Anyone suffering from varicose veins and phlebitis (pain and swelling in a vein) can apply witch hazel cream or ointment to alleviate pain and swelling. The remedy is useful for treating the itching of hemorrhoids as well as to rapidly heal varicose ulcers. A poultice or compress prepared by soaking a pad in witch hazel tincture helps in alleviating burns, swollen or irritating skin problems, engorged breasts (breasts overfull as with blood), bed sores, bruises, sprains and strains. Witch hazel liniment can also be used to relieve mosquito bites and stings, calm down soft aching muscles. A witch hazel lotion can also be applied as a skin toner to tauten up tissues as well as lessen wrecked blood vessels. Witch hazel lotions blended with rose water can be used as a revitalizing eye bath. In addition, lotion, decoction or tincture prepared from witch hazel extracts are also beneficial as a douche (direct a spray of water into a bodily cavity, for cleaning) for vaginal discharge and exasperation. They may also be used as a gargle for healing painful throats as well as contagions.

Parts used

Leaves and bark.

Uses

Although witch hazel is mostly recommended for external use, the shrub has numerous therapeutic values. The tree contains huge amounts of tannins that have a drying as well as astringent (aspirin-like, tea-like quality that causes a dry, puckering sensation in the mouth). These tannins help to tauten up proteins present in the skin as well as across the area where there is any scratch or abrasion. This action of tannins provides a defensive layering on the wounds that enhances resistance to irritation and swellings as well as helps in healing the ruptured skin. In fact, scientific studies have established that witch hazel is also beneficial in healing the harmed blood vessels beneath the skin. According to researches carried out by scientists, this effect may be owing to the presence of flavonoids and tannins in witch hazel. Even when which hazel is decontaminated, the shrub extract preserves its astringency (drying sensation) hinting that it contains other astringent agents besides tannins.

It may be mentioned here that witch hazel is an incredibly helpful herb for curing swollen and soft skin circumstances like eczema. It is normally applied at places where the skin has not been ruptured seriously and assists in safeguarding the distressed area and also to avert any kind of contagion. The herb is also useful for healing affected veins in the face, varicose veins as well as hemorrhoids. In addition, witch hazel is very effective in curing bruises. Owing to the astringent properties, witch hazel is largely beneficial in tightening bloated or swollen veins and reinstates them in their normal arrangement.

Creams prepared with witch hazel can be externally applied on the skin for basic tribulations like cysts (a deep lesion that is filled with pus or other contents) or tumors. Witch hazel is also an effective medication for swollen and irritating eyes. Although witch hazel is rarely taken internally, when consumed, it also helps to cure diarrhea. This is done by taunting up the mucous covering of the intestines and stopping all kinds of intestinal bleeding. When applied externally on the face, creams made from witch hazel extracts also help in healing wrinkles.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

Witch hazel, basically a forest tree, is indigenous to Canada and eastern areas of the United States, but is now cultivated commercially in most parts of Europe. Witch hazel can be propagated either from hardwood cuttings or from the seeds of the tree. In both cases, the plantation is done in autumn and the leaves of the tree, which are of maximum medicinal value, are collected during the summer and dried before storing. On the other hand, the barks of the shrub are collected in autumn and dried immediately in the shade before storing.

Constituents

Witch hazel is rich in tannin and gallic acid, bitters, traces of volatile oil.

Usual dosage

Anyone suffering from hemorrhoids may apply lukewarm and soggy compresses prepared witch hazel extracts freely at last two times daily. The best time to use the compresses is in the morning and at bed time. People suffering from other skin related problems may apply ointments or creams prepared from witch hazel extract two times every day or as per the recommendations of the herbal medicine practitioners. To heal disorders like hemorrhoids and varicose veins (abnormally swollen or knotty veins), witch hazel habitually blended with horse chestnut.

Side effects and cautions

Although witch hazel is basically safe and reliable, it may lead to insignificant skin inflammation in some people when it is applied directly on the epidermis. Witch hazel is mostly used externally and seldom prescribed for internal use.

Brewer's yeast and witch hazel face mask

The natural brewer's yeast and hazel facial mask is also excellent for oily skin and the ingredients required for it include:

  • 1 tablespoonful (15 ml) of witch hazel infusion
  • 4 oz (120 grams) of brewer's yeast
  • 2 to 3 drops of peppermint oil

Blend these ingredients thoroughly and apply the mixture gently and uniformly all over your face leaving the eyes and lips.

Witch hazel and buttermilk moisturizer

The ingredients required to prepare this natural moisturizer for oily skin include:

  • 2 teaspoonfuls (10 ml) of witch hazel
  • 2 teaspoonfuls (10 ml) of almond oil
  • 4 tablespoonfuls (60 ml) of buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoonful (5 ml) of apricot oil

Preparing this moisturizer is very simple. Just put all the ingredients in a jar, seal the lid tightly and shake the mixture thoroughly.

Rose water and witch hazel toning lotion

To prepare a toning lotion with rose water and witch hazel, you require the following ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoonfuls (60 ml) of rose water
  • 4 tablespoonfuls (60 ml) of witch hazel infusion
  • 4 tablespoonfuls (60 ml) of lemon juice
  • 3 drops of the essential oil of lavender

Blend all the ingredients mentioned above together and bottle up the mixture. Prior to using this toner, shake the bottle well every time. This toner will facilitate in reinstating the acid skin layer, tauten as well as refresh the skin and also close the unnecessary pores.

Warm infusions of many herbs may be employed in the form of skin fresheners. Some of these herbs include chamomile, mint, fennel, yarrow, lady's mantle, sage and elderflower. You may include a couple of drops of the tincture of benzoin in every cup of the infusion with a view to preserve the liniment for a longer period.

Comments

From Margie C. - 2010
For many years I have been using witch hazel as a toner applying it on my face after I wash and exfoliate with a mild scrub. I apply it liberally all over and immediately put on a good moisturizer. Although I was blessed to have inherited good skin, this faithful routine has helped my skin remain clear and healthy looking. I am 43 and often get compliments on how much younger I look. After reading up on all the properties of witch hazel (including that of "wrinkle reducer") it feels great to know I've been doing the right thing. I am definitely going to continue to use it as my natural weapon against aging.
From Ingrid Soderlund - 2010
I have grown up with the use of witch hazel. In the 60's my parents always kept witch hazel lotion in the house for burns & cuts. Now I cannot find it but keep witch hazel in the house & use it as an astringent after washing my face, and as an anti-puffiness for under my eyes. Recently, (while at work in a doctor's office) a pharmaceutical rep. asked about starting an "Obagi" program for her acne, but her wedding was only 2 weeks away. I suggested that she use a good glycerin soap, and witch hazel astringent twice a day until after her wedding, then if she wanted to, she could start the expensive program (it takes 6 weeks to acclimate). She returned after her honeymoon to thank me & show her (blemish free) wedding picture.
From Jerry Lloyd - 2010
When I was a young lad in the 40s my dad used witch hazel as a penetrating oil for rusted bolts and the like. I use it to this day myself and find that it is not only cheaper but works as well as or better than any of the penetrating oils I have bought.
From Linda Freeman - 2010
I have been using witch hazel for quite some time, the product is very good, my skin has improved a lot; it's like I am taking vitamins everyday.
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