Hamamelis virginiana - Witch HazelLatin Name: Hamamelis virginiana.

Family: Hamamelidaceae

Synonyms: Spotted Alder, Striped Alder, Tobacco Wood, Winterbloom, Snapping Hazelnut

Brief Description: Hamamelis is a small deciduous tree, up to 5m high, which grows in damp woodland throughout eastern and central US and 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.

Parts used: Bark and Leaf, the leaves can be gathered throughout summer. The bark is collected in spring after sprouting.

Constituents: The bark contains tannin, partly amorphous and partly crystal, gallic acid, a physterol, resin, fat and other bitter and odorous bodies. Bark: c10% tannin including hamamelitannin, gallic acid, saponins, volatile and fixed oil, resin. Leaves: c6% tannin, flavonoids, volatile oil.

Actions: The properties of the leaves and bark are similar, astringent, tonic, haemostatic, antihaemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, sedative (inner bark), valuable in checking internal and external haemorrhage, most efficacious in the treatment of piles, a good pain-killer for the same, useful for bruises and inflammatory swellings, also for diarrhoea, dysentery and mucous discharges. It has long been used by the North American Indians as poultices for painful swellings and tumours.

Uses: The properties of the leaves and bark are similar, astringent, tonic, sedative, valuable in checking internal and external haemorrhage, most efficacious in the treatment of piles, a good pain-killer for the same, useful for bruises and inflammatory swellings, also for diarrhoea, dysentery and mucous discharges, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, mucous colitis, haematemesis, haemoptysis.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Hamamelis is used to contain bleeding and excessive mucous discharge from the alimentary canal. It may be applied topically for external haemorrhoids, varicose veins, bruises, sprains and localised inflamed swellings, spots and blemishes. It 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 eyedrops, aftershave lotions and cosmetic preparations.

The name Witch in witch-hazel has its origins in Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning "pliant" or "bendable". Hazel is derived from the use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England. This use may also have, by folk etymology, influenced the "witch" part of the name.

Witch hazel is a twisted shrub or a small tree. It is a perennial plant that sheds leaves for some time during the year. The bark of witch hazel, which grows up to a height of 15 feet, is normally gray and brownish in color. The shrub or tree bears buds in bunches at the base of the leaves. Witch hazel blossoms from September to November and the flowers have petals that look like twined yellowish straps and they blossom completely after the leaves have shed from the branches. The leaves of witch hazel are asymmetrical at the base and have thin tooth-like protruding at the edges.

Witch hazel usually comes into flower during the autumn after its seeds have ripened in the casings. Interestingly, the capsules or casings of witch hazel split open at the same time the flowers come into view. And what is more striking is the fact that when the seed-bearing capsules of witch hazel rip open, they throw the seeds up to a distance of 20 feet! Owing to its delayed blossoming as well as the volatile bursting of the seed capsules, witch hazel is also known by other names like winterbloom and snapping hazel that describes the shrubís characteristics better.

For centuries, witch hazel has been a popular remedy for all kinds of blisters and burns, swellings and inflammation of the skin as well as to stop bleeding. Owing to high levels of tannins present in witch hazel tree, the herb has astringent properties which make the plant an excellent medication for stopping all kinds of external and internal bleedings. The astringent property of witch hazel helps the plant extracts to an agent that contracts or shrinks tissues and hence impedes bleeding. Hence, it is not surprising that for ages witch hazel has been used to stop bleeding from the lungs, stomach, uterus as well as bowels. In fact, witch hazel even proves to be beneficial in healing excessive menstruation and uterine blood blockage or clotting. The herb is also helpful in alleviating the feeling of fullness, heaviness and uneasiness during menstruation period.

Witch HazelWitch Hazel has been supposed to owe its utility to an action on the muscular fibre of veins. The distilled extract from the fresh leaves and young twigs forms an excellent remedy for internal or external uses, being beneficial for bleeding from the lungs and nose, as well as from other internal organs. In the treatment of varicose veins, it should be applied on a lint bandage, which must be constantly kept moist: a pad of Witch Hazel applied to a burst varicose vein will stop the bleeding and often save life by its instant application. Pond's Extract of Witch Hazel was much used in our grandmother's days as a general household remedy for burns, scalds, and inflammatory conditions of the skin generally and it is still in general use. In cases of bites of insects and mosquitoes a pad of cotton-wool, moistened with the extract and applied to the spot will soon cause the pain and swelling to subside.

To heal external problems like cuts and wounds you can apply either a decoction, tincture of distilled witch hazel. The decoction or tincture can also be used as a mouth wash to treat bleeding gums and ointments or creams prepared from witch hazel extracts may be applied to heal bleeding piles. Tannins present in the witch hazel plant also help in rapid healing, reducing pains, irritations or swellings (inflammation) as well as protecting open lesions against infection. In addition, witch hazel is also an effective medication for diarrhea, dysentery, mucous colitis and even respiratory breathing catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membranes with a free discharge). Many herbal practitioners have also used to heal uterine prolapse (falling down or slipping of a body part from its normal position) or incapacitated condition following any miscarriage or childbirth to firm up the uterine muscles.

Witch hazel can also be taken as a tea or used as a gargle to get rid of numerous ailments. Witch hazel tea can be prepared by mixing half a teaspoon each of the shrubís leaves and bark with one pint of boiling water. After the mixing, cover the utensil and keep it away for about 45 minutes allowing the herbís properties to steep in the boiling water. One may either gargle with the witch hazel tea to get relief from sore throat or even drink two cups of the herbal tea to heal diarrhea. The tea is also useful for healing vaginitis when used as a vaginal douche (cleansing the vagina by flushing fluids).

Anyone suffering from hemorrhoids may apply lukewarm and soggy compresses prepared witch hazel extracts freely at last two times daily. The best time to use the compresses is in the morning and at bed time. People suffering from other skin related problems may apply ointments or creams prepared from witch hazel extract two times every day or as per the recommendations of the herbal medicine practitioners. To heal disorders like hemorrhoids and varicose veins (abnormally swollen or knotty veins), witch hazel habitually blended with horse chestnut.

The essential oil of Witch Hazel is not sold separately as a consumer product. The plant does not produce enough essential oil to make production viable. However, there are various distillates of witch hazel (called hydrosols or hydrolats) that are gentler than the drug store bought witch hazel and contains alcohol.

Although witch hazel is basically safe and reliable, it may lead to insignificant skin inflammation in some people when it is applied directly on the epidermis. Witch hazel is mostly used externally and seldom prescribed for internal use.

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