Synonyms: spotted alder, striped alder, tobacco wood, winter bloom, snapping hazelnut.
Description: Hamamelis is a small deciduous tree, up to 5m high, which grows in damp woodland throughout eastern and central US and is cultivated elsewhere. It has alternate elliptic, coarsely toothed leaves with prominent veins, often finely hairy underneath Drooping axillary clusters of yellow flowers appear in the autumn when the leaves are falling and give way to a woody capsule ejecting two shiny black seeds the following year.
Whilst Hazel is common in Britain, Hamamelis virginiana (where Witch Hazel herb comes from) is not one of Britain’s indigenous species and as far as I know, it doesn’t grow in the wild in Britain. This doesn’t mean it can’t be, only that the correct Species isn’t found in the wild here in Britain. However, the small trees can be bought from some garden centres and its best to ask if the tree you are buying will need a specific condition or soil to grow to its best. And do make sure it is the correct Species ‘Hamamelis virginiana’.
Collection: the leaves can be gathered throughout summer. The bark is collected in spring after sprouting.
Parts used: bark and leaf.
Bark: tannin including hamamelitannin, gallic acid, saponins, volatile and fixed oil, resin.
Leaves: c6% tannin, flavonoids, volatile oil.
Actions: astringent, haemostatic, antihaemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, sedative (inner bark), tonic.
Indications: diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, mucous colitis, haematemesis, haemoptysis.
Contraindications: Witch Hazel may cause stomach upset when taken by mouth.
Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Witch Hazel is used to contain bleeding and excessive mucous discharge from the alimentary canal (the whole of the passage of food, from mouth to anus).
It may be applied topically for external haemorrhoids, varicose veins, bruises, sprains and localised inflamed swellings, spots and blemishes.
t can also be applied to insect bites and minor burns such as sunburn. It is most well known in the form of distilled Witch Hazel, which may be used externally and internally, wherever there has been bleeding. It is an ingredient in eye drops, aftershave lotions and cosmetic preparations.
Preparation and Dosage:
Infusion: (leaves) 1 teaspoonful of dried herb to one cup of boiling water and infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink 3 times a day.
Tincture: (bark) 1-2 ml in a little hot water, take 3 times a day.
Ointment: Use topically as required.
Additional Comments: Native Americans used Witch Hazel in poultices for painful swellings and tumours. The distilled witch hazel widely sold is not as astringent as other preparations as it contains no tannins.
Although many magical qualities are associated with this plant, its common name of Witch Hazel is actually derived for different reasons. The “witch” part comes from the older English word “wych” meaning “bendable” or “bending.”
It looked similar enough to the European Wych Elm that the name was applied to the New World plants. This was later corrupted to “witch” but possibly because so many magical properties were also attributed to it.
The folklore of Europe has, on multiple occasions, related to the mythical properties and virtues of witch-hazel. In most instances pronounced magical powers are ascribed to the shrub, bush, twig, or tree.
It is said that Witch-hazel is employed by witches as a wand to wave over a road, path, or way, or over a stream or pond of water, to influence the presiding deities or spirits of the locality, for good or evil to those passing.