Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a perennial genus of the shrubs native to Canada and spread cultivated throughout Europe. It has been described centuries ago, and the Greek name given to the plant referring to its peculiar properties is translated as “apples”, and “together”. What would that mean? The thing about witch hazel is, that the plant blooms after the leaves from the shrub has fallen and the seeds turned ripe, usually during autumn months (September-October). So the “apples”, or rather the old fruits, are still on the tree together with the new yellow bloom.
The flowers usually come together with brown capsule-like casings, which crack and throw two black hard seeds when they ripen. Because the distance they fall to can reach 20 feet, witch hazel is often called a snapping hazelnut.
Witch hazel grows as a small twisted shrub or tree, reaching up to 20 feet in height, carrying arching branches. The leaves are dark green in the top and pale in the bottom parts.
Witch hazel grows in a wide variety of climatic conditions and flourishes best in the country fields and close to the water sources. Propagated from cuttings of hardwood and the seeds, witch hazel is usually planted in autumn. It favours moist soil with rich acid content and is rather tolerant to the pollution. The leaves of the tree are of the most medicinal value, they are collected in summer and processed for storage. Witch hazel bark, which is also used in medicine, is collected in fall.
Bark and leaf are the sources of healing properties of the plant, so they are being used in herbal and personal care preparations.
Witch hazel is a popular component in skin care products. Volatile oil and odorous substances extracted from the plant are being included into after shave creams, soaps, lotions and deodorants. Medicinally used, the most common form of witch hazel is a tincture – distillate of the shrub with 14% alcohol content. Teas, suppositories and dried extracts are also commonly sold in drugstores.
Both leaves and bark are the rich source of bitter chemicals of unknown origin, as well as gallic and tannic acids, volatile oil (in leaves). Fat, odorous chemicals and resin are found in bark. Both parts of the plant provide similar actions – tonic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antioxidant, and sedative.
Witch hazel since long ago has been known to Native Americans as a tonic herb helpful for swellings, tumours and pain. They also treated bleeding with the tea brewed from bark or leaves of the plant. Modern science has found an explanation to this property – active compounds in the herb stimulate the muscular function of the veins. Applied topically, witch hazel extract from fresh leaves helps stop bleeding from the nose, lungs and other organs, including bleeding varicose veins.
The tea made of leaves is a universal remedy for multiple conditions: sore throat (used cooled as a gargle), diarrhea (2 cups for the healing), vaginitis (used as douche), hemorrhoids and internal bleeding.
Being a part in a number of topical applications, witch hazel acts as a mild anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent. It removes irritation, itch, swelling in such conditions as eczema, psoriasis, blistered and cracked skin, sores, bites and stings.
Due to the presence of antioxidant effects, plant chemicals usually make up the content of anti-wrinkling and anti-aging products.
Also, used as ointments, suppositories and pads, witch hazel relieves most of the symptoms of hemorrhoids. Similar topical applications help relieving inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth, as well as inflammation of the gums.
In addition to multiple benefits of the herb, FDA has approved witch hazel as a safe component in non-prescription drug, which is not that common among many other dietary supplements.