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Witch Hazel Bark, (Hamamelis virginiana) Cut and Sifted Bulk
Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel Family)
The genus name, Hamamelis, is thought to be a Greek term meaning the medlar tree or any fruit tree. One reason the plant was given the common name witch hazel is that its forked branches were made into divining rods for dowsing. This technique was known in ancient Britain as witching, a term taken from wice, the Old English name for a tree with pliable branches.
Range of Appearance
Witch hazel is a deciduous shrub native to North America. It most often grows in damp woods with acidic soil. Several trunks branch up from a single root, and they can reach a height of 8 to 12 feet. The leaves are alternate and elliptical, with hairy undersides; they turn yellow in autumn. The ribbonlike, hermaphroditic, sweet-scented, yellow flowers bloom in late autumn, after the leaves have fallen.
Bark, twig, leaf
Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, hemostatic, sedative, styptic, tonic
Native Americans introduced European settlers to witch hazel, which quickly became popular among them. Witch hazel was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1862 through 1916 and in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1955. Its flavonoid content helps heal damaged blood vessels and contributes to the plant's astringent properties. Witch hazel has long been used in the treatment of colitis, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, leukorrhea, menorrhagia, organ prolapse, threat of miscarriage, and varicose veins. For the preparation of topical applications, only the twigs are used, not the leaves or bark. The tannins found in the twigs precipitate the protein in wounds, thus helping to form a healing protective coating. Witch hazel can be used as a compress or salve to treat bruises, hemorrhoids, insect bites, muscle soreness, phlebitis, poison ivy, sunburn, swellings, and varicose veins. It also can be prepared as a sitz bath to treat hemorrhoids, as a douche to treat vaginitis, or as a wash to treat eye soreness. It is excellent as a gargle to relieve sore throat and tonsillitis and as a mouthwash to relieve gum inflammation. The Potawatomi Indians burned the twigs in sweat lodges to relieve sore muscles. Distilled witch hazel is still a popular over-thecounter preparation, available in any drugstore. It can be applied directly to the skin to treat bedsores, blemishes, bruises, eczema, insect bites, pimples, poison ivy or oak, and sunburn. It is also used as an aftershave and to shrink enlarged pores. Athletes are known to rub witch hazel on their limbs prior to workouts to prevent muscle strain. Witch hazel can be frozen in ice-cube form (clearly labeled) and applied for cool, soothing relief in cases of bruises or swellings.
The barks, leaves, and twigs are not generally considered edible, aside from as tea. Witch hazel has edible black seeds that taste like pistachios. They ripen the summer following the fall flowering. They can be eaten raw or cooked.
Witch hazel is sometimes included in lotions, toners, and deodorants for its astringent properties.
Choline, tannins (gallic acid), flavonoids (catechins, kaempferol, proanthocyanins, quercitin), saponins, essential oils (carvacol, eugenol, hexaenol)
Because of its high tannin content, witch hazel is very astringent. Topical applications of witch hazel should use only products made from the twigs, as those made from the bark or leaves may be disfiguring. Tincture of witch hazel can be too astringent for topical skin use. Use witch hazel internally only for short periods of time, as the high tannin content can be too astringent for the liver and constipating. Although distilled witch hazel does not contain tannins, it often does contain rubbing alcohol, and it should not be used internally or applied close to mucous membranes, on broken skin, or in the eyes.
Plant details were provided by iPlant by Brigitte Mars.
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