Despite its name, there is nothing to fear from this low-growing shrub, although its healing properties may seem a little like witchcraft. Actually, witch hazel may have gotten its name from its association with dowsing, which was once thought to be a form of witchcraft.
Witch hazel's branches were once the wood of choice for dowsing rods, whose purpose was to locate water, or "witch" a well. Although witch hazel was once used to find hydration, it is now used as an herbal remedy to dry and cleanse skin.
Uses for Witch Hazel
The bark, leaves, and twigs of witch hazel are all high in tannins, giving this plant astringent properties. Astringents are substances that can dry, tighten, and harden tissues. You may use an astringent on your skin to tighten pores and remove excess oil.
A styptic pencil is a type of astringent, too, for astringents also stop discharges. The astringent tannins in witch hazel temporarily tighten and soothe aching varicose veins or reduce inflammation in cases of phlebitis (an inflammation of a vein). Witch hazel also contains procyanadins, resin, and flavonoids, all of which add to its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. A cloth soaked in strong witch hazel tea reduces swelling and can relieve the pain of hemorrhoids and bruises.
Almost all pharmacies carry some type of witch hazel preparation in the form of lotions, hemorrhoidal pads, and suppositories. Besides their use topically for hemorrhoids and veins, witch hazel lotions are useful on rough, swollen, gardener's or carpenter's hands. You can also use witch hazel internally to treat varicose veins, hemorrhoids, or a prolapsed uterus, although not the witch hazel/isopropyl alcohol preparation frequently found in drug stores.
Its ability to shrink swollen tissue makes witch hazel appropriate to treat laryngitis as well. And a throat gargle of witch hazel, myrrh, and cloves reduces the pain of an uncomfortable sore throat. Again, use fresh tea or tincture, not the drugstore witch hazel, which contains isopropyl alcohol. You can rinse your mouth with witch hazel and myrrh for cases of swollen and infected gums. Place a dropper full of tincture of each herb in 1/4 cup of water and use as a mouth rinse. A teaspoon of strong witch hazel tea combined with one drop each of myrrh and clove oil makes a pain- and inflammation-relieving gum rub for use in teething babies.
A cotton swab dipped in a witch hazel, goldenseal, and calendula tea and applied to the outer ear is useful in treating swimmer's ear. Swimmer's ear is associated typically with pus and moisture in the outer ear canal. Witch hazel helps dry up the secretions, while goldenseal and calendula fight infection.
Witch hazel combined with arnica makes an excellent topical remedy for the treatment of traumatic bruises, bumps, and sprains to relieve pain and promote speedy healing. Witch hazel is sometimes combined with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol for use on external skin lesions; this form of witch hazel should not be used internally.
If you have watery stools or blood or mucus in your stools on a regular basis, your physician may suspect colitis or irritable bowel syndrome and recommend witch hazel to reduce intestinal secretions associated with these conditions. A tea made from witch hazel, chamomile, mint, and a bit of thyme can be very effective for diarrhea that accompanies an intestinal illness, or what we often call stomach flu.
For best results, an herbalist can select the right tea formula for you. If you wish to make a remedy at home, combine 1 tablespoon each of dried chamomile and mint and 1.5 teaspoons of dried witch hazel and thyme. Steep in 3 cups of hot water.
Witch hazel is an important botanical for controlling bleeding: It can reduce bleeding when applied topically to a wound or used internally for bleeding ulcers or bleeding gums. Of course, serious wounds require medical treatment, but witch hazel can control bleeding en route to a physician.
In the next section, you will learn how to prepare witch hazel for herbal remedies and some of the potentially dangerous side effects.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.