What is Witch Hazel?
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.
What are the Benefits of Witch Hazel?
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
The plant has also been found to be useful for many other non-skin related health conditions, including:
- Bleeding and sore gums
- Diarrhea and dysentery
- Arthritis pain
- Stiff muscles
- Varicose veins
- Heavy menstruation
The antioxidant and anti-aging properties of Witch Hazel may also be helpful with UV radiation damage, wrinkles, and other aging symptoms.
Uses of Witch Hazel
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.
A few studies show that the Flavonoids, Tannins and other chemicals in Witch Hazel may help in tightening, constricting and healing of the distressed and damaged blood vessels responsible for causing hemorrhoids. A simple home remedy is to make Witch Hazel tea by boiling one teaspoon of Witch Hazel in one cup for 15-20 minutes or until water is reduced to 1/4 cup. Take a couple of round cotton balls no bigger than a walnut in size or a few small squares made with 3-4 layers of cotton gauze or clean unbleached cotton cloth. Dab one piece of cotton ball or cotton cloth in lukewarm Witch Hazel tea and apply it for 2-3 minutes onto the hemorrhoids and then replace it with a new and fresh piece. Repeat the process for 10-15 minutes after every bowel movement and at night before going to bed. By repeating it at regular intervals the anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties of Which Hazel may reduce the swelling in a few days. Note that the tea can be replaced with Witch Hazel non-alcoholic water which is available at most herbal food stores. If your hemorrhoids are due to constipation, it is also important to consume plenty of fiber and drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day to help soften the stools.
Post-natal Tearing (or Episiotomy) of the Perineum
The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of Witch Hazel oil may help heal and relieve the pain and inflammation caused by the tearing or episiotomy after birth. Simply put a few drops of the oil onto a sanitary pad before applying it over the perineum area. You can also fill a peri-bottle (squirt bottle) with a glass of lukewarm water and add 5-6 drops of Witch Hazel oil in it. Mix it well and use this water as a rinse after urination and defecation to cleanse and avoid any bacterial infection and inflammation. Pat dry or air dry the perineum area.
A few studies have found that Witch Hazel contains polyphenols and other important herbal and chemical components which may help with swollen and knotty Varicose Veins and damaged blood vessels under the skin. Simply soak a wash cloth in a solution made by mixing 10-15 drops of Witch Hazel extract into a cup of lukewarm water and apply it over the affected area. While applying the soak, keep your legs flat on a straight surface. Repeat this process 2-3 times daily for 10-15 minutes especially before going to bed. After the soak, Witch Hazel mixed in equal amount of Horse Chestnut oil may be applied to enhance its effectiveness. Also wearing support stockings can be helpful. However, any kind of massage or applying of pressure is not recommended for Varicose Veins.
Witch Hazel has been used in the prevention and treatment of minor diaper rashes for ages. Simply wipe the affected area with diluted Witch Hazel tea or oil after every diaper change.
Sore Gums, Sore Throat, Laryngitis
The antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and astringent activity of Witch Hazel may help shrink and heal inflamed and sore throats, gums and larynx. A simple home remedy to treat Gingivitis, Laryngitis and sore throat is to make a tea by boiling one teaspoon of Witch Hazel in one cup of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Or mix 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of Witch Hazel extract and 2-3 drops of Clove Oil in a lukewarm cup of water. Use this concoction for gargling and as a mouth wash 3-4 times daily.
Sprains and Bruises
Witch Hazel is considered a wonderful topical home remedy for treating bruises, inflamed and painful joints, and sprains. Simply apply Witch Hazel oil following the directions on the package onto the affected area daily. At night, put a few drops of the oil on a piece of cotton strip and wrap it around the sprained or inflamed joint overnight.
Diarrhea and Dysentery
Witch Hazel tea made in combination with these herbs has shown to be beneficial in the treatment of Diarrhea, Stomach Flu, Colitis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Dysentery and other intestinal illnesses. To relieve the discomfort caused by these intestinal conditions, make a tea by adding 1 tbsp each of dried Chamomile, Mint, Witch Hazel and Thyme to a boiling quart of water. Let it simmer for 5-7 minutes and sip one cup throughout the day. The rest of the tea can be refrigerated for a few days. If all the other ingredients are not available, a simpler tea can be made using only one teaspoon of Witch Hazel mixed into a cup of boiling water and simmered for 5-7 minutes.
What are the Side Effects of Witch Hazel?
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.
Where and How to Buy 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.