Witch Hazel, the winter bloom

Witch hazels are small trees or shrubs, native to the Eastern United States.  They grow 15-30 feet high with a similar spread and flourish in USDA hardiness zones 3-8.  The plant prefers full sun to partial shade and is tolerant of a variety of soils, provided they are well drained.  Yellow to red fragrant, squiggly-looking flowers appear from October to December. Also known as snapping hazel, winterbloom, or wych hazel.

The North American native peoples used witch hazel as a medicinal plant.  Employing its use as an astringent.  The Osage used it for skin ulcers and sores.  The Potawatomi steamed twigs over hot rocks in their sweat lodges to ease sore muscles.  The Iroquoi made a tea to treat dysentery, colds, and coughs.  In the 18th century, witch hazel was brought to England where its use in treating wounds and bites continued.  It was believed that the volatile oils in the plant were highest in late fall and winter. 

Today, witch hazel is used primarily as an astringent and anti-inflammatory in the external treatment of all types of bruises, inflammations, varicose veins, bleeding, wounds, soreness and muscular aches, and specifically hemorrhoids, and internally for sore throat, internal bleeding, diarrhea and catarrh.  The leaves and twigs are the parts used in medicinal preparations, though distilled witch hazel is readily available at your nearest drugstore.  The plant is rich in tannins (2-10%), flavonoids, saponins, resin and a volatile oil. 

While there are limited contemporary studies available on the uses of witch hazel, there have been some done comparing its effectiveness as an astringent against other preparations, and also evaluating the tannin contents of the plants.  In one 1993 study, a witch hazel preparation and a steroidal cream were compared for effectiveness soothing a skin abrasion.  The witch hazel was found to be as effective. 

As with all herbal preparations, use care and consult your medical practitioner prior to using, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or using any other medications.  This information not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  For educational purposes only.

References

Andriote, John-Manuel. The Mysterious Past and Present of Witch Hazel. November 6, 2012. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/11/the-mysterious-past-and-present-of-witch-hazel/264553/

Fielder, Mildred. Plant Medicine and Folklore. 1975. Winchester Press, New York

Hoffmann, David. Medical herbalism. 2003. Healing arts press. Rochester VT

Kane, Charles W. Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions. 2009. Lincoln Town Press

Korting HC, Schäfer-Korting M, Hart H, Laux P, Schmid M. Anti-inflammatory activity of hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Influence of vehicle and dose. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1993;44(4):315-8. doi: 10.1007/BF00316465. PMID: 8513841

Weiss, Rudolf Fritz, Fintelmann, Volker. Herbal Medicine. 2000. Theime, New York

Wheelwright, Edith Grey. Medicinal Plants and Their History. 1974. Dover Publications, Inc. New York

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