There really is something magical about witch hazel. This deciduous flowering plant sheds its leaves at the end of its growth cycle. Witch hazel can grow as a small shrub. Or it may be a small or large tree – up to 40 feet, although 10-25 feet is more common.
According to Wikipedia, “The genus name, Hamamelis, means ‘together with fruit,’ referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year.”
One of the North American varieties (H. virginiana) flowers between September and November. The other three species (H. mexicana, H. ovalis, and H. vernalis) bloom between January and March. Because of this, the four North American species are sometimes called winterbloom.
What is witch hazel?
The capsule-shaped fruit has two parts, with one seed in each half. The fruit explodes apart at maturity in the fall about eight months after blooming and launches the two seeds with enough force to broadcast them as far as 30 feet from the mother plant! Due to this behavior, another name used is “Snapping Hazel.”
The modern word “witch” comes from an Old English word (wice) that means bendable or pliant. The flexible twigs make good divining rods for dowsing – finding water under the ground by walking around on the surface until the rod deflects, indicating where to dig a well and how deep.
Tannins in the virginiana bark and leaves make it a powerful astringent (a chemical compound that shrinks tissues in the body). Because of this, witch hazel is in many skincare products.
Some people regard it as the best treatment available for acne. It is also effective for psoriasis, boils, pimples, cracked skin, inflammation and rashes, including hives.
Witch hazel also has antioxidant properties. These, combined with its astringent properties, “are perfect for killing bacteria that live within skin’s pores, stopping cellular damage that can lead to skin cancer, preventing signs of aging, and speeding up healing,” according to Dr. Axe.
Witch hazel is in products that tighten the skin, combat aging, improve nail health, repel insects, and shrink hemorrhoids. It can also be found in shaving cream, aftershave, and shampoo.
Cultures around the world have used witch hazel as a traditional and potent folk medicine for thousands of years. For example, American Indians used witch hazel to reduce swelling and quickly heal sores and infections.
Furthermore, muscle and joint pain from exercise, injury or just getting older respond very well to applications of witch hazel. It also reduces arthritic pain and inflammation.
How do you use witch hazel?
Applied to the temples, witch hazel soothes headaches as it shrinks the small capillaries in the forehead. Similarly, it is effective in treating varicose veins. Witch hazel is also a natural remedy to reduce puffiness and discoloration under and around the eyes. But avoid getting any in your eyes because that can be quite painful.
Not only can witch hazel be applied topically (directly to the skin), Dr. Axe tells us it can be ingested like other medicines to treat the symptoms of “diarrhea, colds, mucus colitis, vomiting, coughing, the flu and more.” You can make a healing tea to drink as a stomach tonic. Organic Facts notes that “while only a small amount of witch hazel tea is required, it is particularly effective when mixed with chamomile or mint.”
Used as a mouth rinse, witch hazel reduces pain and swelling from irritated or infected gums. Natural Living Ideas gives this recipe:
“Try a teaspoon of witch hazel tea with one drop of each clove and myrrh oil to safely relieve teething pain for infants. The same treatment may also be used to soothe pain caused by emerging wisdom teeth or after oral surgery to reduce discomfort and inflammation.”
Where can you find it?
Witch hazel is readily available in a clear liquid form in pharmacies, next to the rubbing alcohol. Best of all, it’s quite affordable.
Due to its power as a healing agent, only small amounts of witch hazel are necessary. Don’t overdo it. Taking too much internally can make you dizzy, nauseous, or actually produce a rash (rather than heal it).
For external use, you can dilute witch hazel with an equal amount of water or a carrier oil (like virgin olive oil).
Banish skin blemishes, reduce pain, and soothe skin eruptions – naturally – by using witch hazel in moderation on a regular basis or as needed.