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Witch Hazel

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  • Botanical: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Family: Hamamelidaceae
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Witch Hazel

Botanical

Hamamelis virginiana

Family

Hamamelidaceae

Known as

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Virginische Zaubernuss, Amerikanische Zaubernuss, Hamamelis, Hexenhasel, Hopfenhainbuche, Virginia-Zaubernuss, Wünschelrute, Zauberhasel, Zauberhaselnuss, Zaubernuss

Old Use

medicinal

Collection Times

September to November

Parts Used

bark, leaves

Medicinal

acne, antiseptic, bleeding, bruises, burns, cramps, cramps stomach, dermatitis, digestion, dry skin, eczema, eye inflammation, gum bleeding, hemorrhoids, high blood preasure, infections, infections intestinal, menstrual cramps, menstrual problems, warts, wounds, gynecological issues

Heart & Circulation

bleeding, hemorrhoids, varicose veins

Hormone & Sexual Organs

gynecological issues, menstrual cramps, menstrual problems, uterine bleeding, uterine prolapse

Infection & Inflammation

eye inflammation, gingivitis, gum bleeding, infections intestinal, mouth inflammation, skin inflammation

Respiratory System

pharyngitis

Stomach & Intestinal

cancer, diarrhea, intestinal parasites, stomatitis, ulcers

Skin & Hair

bruises, burns, dandruff, dry skin, eczema, itching, skin rashes, wounds

Properties

anti inflammatory, astringent, stimulant, tonic

Description

This shrub, long known in cultivation, consists of several crooked branching trunks from one root, 4 to 6 inches in diameter, 10 to 12 feet in height, with a smooth grey bark, leaves 3 to 5 inches long and about 3 inches wide, on short petioles, alternate, oval or obovate, acuminate, obliquely subcordate at the base, the margin crenate, dentate, scabrous, with raised spots underneath, pinnately veined and having stellate hairs.

The leaves drop off in autumn, then the yellow flowers appear, very late in September and in October, in clusters from the joints, followed by black nuts, containing white seeds which are oily and edible.

In Britain, the nut does not bear seeds, but in America, they are produced abundantly, but often do not ripen till the following summer. The seeds are ejected violently when ripe, hence the name Snapping Hazelnut. The leaves are inodorous, with an astringent and bitterish aromatic taste.

The twigs are flexible and rough, colour externally, yellowish-brown to purple, wood greeny white, pith small. The bark as found in commerce is usually in quilled pieces 1/16 inch thick, 2 to 8 inches long, with silvery grey, scaly cork; longitudinally striated; fracture fibrous and laminated; taste and odour slight.

Properties & Uses

Witch hazel bark is a traditional herb of the North American Indians who used it to heal wounds, treat tumours, eye problems etc. A very astringent herb, it is commonly used in the West and is widely available from both herbalists and chemists. It is an important ingredient of proprietary eye drops, skin creams, ointments and skin tonics.

It is widely used as an external application to bruises, sore muscles, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, sore nipples, inflammations etc. The bark is astringent, haemostatic, sedative and tonic. Tannins in the bark are believed to be responsible for its astringent and haemostatic properties. Bottled witch hazel water is a steam distillate that does not contain the tannins from the shrub, this is less effective in its action than a tincture.

The bark is used internally in the treatment of diarrhoea, colitis, dysentery, haemorrhoids, vaginal discharge, excessive menstruation, internal bleeding and prolapsed organs. Branches and twigs are harvested for the bark in the spring. An infusion of the leaves is used to reduce inflammations, treat piles, internal haemorrhages and eye inflammations. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use.

A homeopathic remedy is made from fresh bark. It is used in the treatment of nosebleeds, piles and varicose veins. 

Other Uses

Used as a rootstock for the ornamental species in this genus. The plant is very rich in tannin. It is used cosmetically as an ingredient in almost any preparation made to relieve capillary weaknesses. The stems have been used for water divining. Wood - heavy, hard, very close grained. It weighs 43lb per cubic foot. The trees are too small to be a useful lumber source

Cautions

Avoid long-term use due to cancer risk (from high tannin content). Avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding. 1g ingested can cause vomiting, nausea, impaction. Topical use may cause dermatitis

Distribution

Eastern N. America - Nova Scotia to Wisconsin and south to Texas and N. Florida.

Constituents

Leaves (official in the United States Pharmacopoeia), tannic and gallic acids, an unknown bitter principle and some volatile oil. 

The bark contains tannin, partly amorphous and partly crystal, gallic acid, a physterol, resin, fat and other bitter and odorous bodies.