- Hamamelis virginiana L.
- Witch-hazel family
nut (not the American hazelnut (Corylus americana L.)
Parts Usually Used
Bark and leaves
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
Witch hazel is a tall, deciduous shrub or small tree; growing to
a height of up to 15 feet, the stems and branches are covered with
scaly gray to light, brown bark. The alternate, elliptic to obovate
leaves are coarsely toothed and often are finely hairy on the veins
underneath. The fragrant, light yellow flowers have 4 strap-shaped
petals and grow in nodding, axillary clusters, blooming in autumn
when the leaves are falling. The fruit is a woody capsule which ejects
two shining black seeds when they ripen during the summer or autumn
following the flowers.
Another variety: The Chinese witch hazel (H. japonica), Chinese
name Chiu-lu-mei, does not seem to have been used medicinally in China.
Grows in damp woods from Nova Scotia to Georgia and Nebraska, Minnesota
south to Florida and Texas; it is also cultivated elsewhere for its
Astringent, hemostatic, sedative, styptic, tonic
Tannin, traces of essential oil, flavonoids, choline and a saponin.
The bark contains less tannin.
Legends, Myths and Stories
Witch hazel was first used, as far as we know, by the Native Americans.
The Native Americans watched for this plant to be in bloom; they
took it as an indication that the frost was entirely gone and they
might sow their corn. Also, it was a good spring herald for a good
Many wells have been dug in this land where the witch hazel has indicated.
At one time, one would hear occasionally, of people making a business
of "water witching." Despite the unscientific concept, some folks
still swear by its many successes.
Witch hazel's name is thought to be derived from early American settlers
who used this plant's forked branches as a divining rod in their searches
for water or gold, just as the hazel's branches were used in England.
It is also possible that the name was transferred from the English
wych-hazel, or wych-elm, with its ultimate origin in the Old English
word wican, meaning "to yield". The reference, of course, would be
the springiness of the wood.
Leaves and bark have served mostly to make astringent preparations,
which have been taken internally for diarrhea
and used externally as a rinse
or gargle for mouth and throat
irritations, colds, and as a
vaginal douche for vaginitis.
For skin irritations, bruises,
varicose veins, tonic
after abortions, insect
bites and stings, minor burns,
and poison ivy, an ointment made from the fluid extract or a poultice
can be applied. Local application for gonorrhea
and leukorrhea. A poultice made from the inner bark is said to be
effective for hemorrhoids
and for eye inflammation.
The inner bark also has sedative and hemostatic properties.
Twig tea was rubbed on athletes' legs to keep muscles limber, relieve
lameness, wounds, and swellings;
tea for bloody dysentery,
cholera, cough, and asthma.
Used externally for bruises and sore muscles, minor
pains, itching. Diluted with water or mixed with honey, the powder
may be topically applied as a dressing for burns, scalds, scrapes,
bruises, abrasions, and crushed toes and fingers. An effective wash
for sunburn, inflamed breasts,
and for various rashes. It is often used as an after-shave lotion.
Formulas or Dosages
Decoction: boil 1 tsp. bark or leaves in 1 cup water 15-20
minutes. Take 1 cup a day, a mouthful at a time.
Tincture: a dose is from 5-20 drops.
Ointment: mix 1 part fluid extract with 9 parts lard or vaseline.
Witch hazel "extract", used externally as a skin toner, is a common
item in American medicine cabinets.
Over-the-counter products are available in every pharmacy. Bottled
witch-hazel water, widely available, is a steam distillate that does
not contain the astringent tannins of the shrub. Apply to irritated
areas several times a day.
Do not take internally witch hazel purchased at the drug store. It
contains an alcohol that is not intended for internal use.