Witch Hazel (also know as Hamamelis) is a flowering plant popular for its health benefits and ornamental purposes. It grows in beautiful clusters of rich yellow to orange-red flowers. Its North American species are also known as Snapping Hazel, Spotted Alder, Tobacco Wood, and Winterbloom since the flowers begin to grow in the autumn and continue to expand throughout the winter. Due to its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities the extract derived from the twigs, bark, and leaves of Witch Hazel is often used in skin ointments, astringents, aftershave lotions, soaps, and shower gels. The seeds of Witch Hazel, also known as Hazel Nuts, are edible and are used to extract oil used in the treatment of many skin and health conditions.
Witch Hazel has been used in the treatment of many health conditions by the Japanese, Chinese, and Native Americans for centuries. The tannins, volatile oils, gallic acid, resin, flavonoids (procyanidins), and other natural components in it give Witch Hazel its astringent, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities. Therefore, Witch Hazel teas, oils, and extracts are widely used in the treatment of many skin conditions such as:
- Cuts and bruises
- Itchy and irritated skin
- Puffy eyes
- Insect bites and bee stings
- Cold sores
- Poison Ivy
Studies have shown that Witch Hazel possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and astringent properties which may be beneficial in the treatment of boils, pimples, acne, blemishes, razor cuts, bruises, insect bites, poison ivy, dermatitis, porous facial skin, carpenter’s hands, cracked heals, nail and foot infection, eczema, cold sores, and wrinkles. Witch Hazel extract or oil can be applied directly onto the affected area or can be mixed in equal portion of Isopropyl (rubbing) Alcohol before the application. For sensitive skin, Witch Hazel can be diluted in equal portion of water, Arnica Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil and applied 2-3 times daily. Also, the application of ointments and creams with Witch Hazel extract may be beneficial in the treatment of many of these skin ailments. However, it should not be applied on seriously ruptured skin.
In the USA, Witch Hazel is an FDA approved herbal product for medicinal purposes. There are not any known severe side effects of using this herb. However, oral overdose of Witch Hazel may cause allergic reactions such as rash, itchiness or inflammation, trouble breathing, dizziness, nausea or upset stomach. Therefore, oral consumption should be done only under close supervision of your health care provider and if you feel any kind of adverse symptoms, contact your physician immediately. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding it is highly recommended that you consult your doctor before using Witch Hazel.
Witch Hazel can be purchased at herbal food stores, pharmacies and many department or grocery stores. It is strongly advised to read the package labels closely since Witch hazel is available in formulas which are made separately for external and internal use. The Witch Hazel which is packaged for external use often contains isopropyl alcohol. When buying it for facial use, look for 100% Organic Witch Hazel Hydrosol, since it is milder and more beneficial for sensitive skin. The Hydrosol version is also distilled slowly and under low pressure with pure water which helps preserve all the herbal and medicinal components of the plant.