The name Witch Hazel derives from an Old English word "wych", meaning pliant in reference to a tree with flexible branches. The branches of witch hazel trees have been used by dowsers to fashion a "witch", or witching stick, the device used to locate sources of underground water or even precious metals.
Witch hazel was a common remedy used by North American Indians, who drank it as tea as a general tonic and also as a rinse for throat and mouth irritations. They also used witch hazel steam baths to treat coughs and feverish colds.
Witch hazel compresses were commonly used in treating a variety of afflictions: headaches, skin irritations, insect bites, burns and infections. A tea from witch hazel leaf and bark was also used to ease hemorrhoids and ulcers.
Witch hazel astringent and believed to promote healing of wounds. Distilled witch hazel, or witch hazel water, is widely used externally as a body lotion, astringent skin cleanser, massage liquid for body and scalp and aftershave.
The benefits of witch hazel extract include easing insect bites and sunburn.
Witch Hazel is native to the United States, primarily east of the Mississippi River, with some growing in Louisiana and Arkansas.
Witch Hazel is a shrub or small tree with twisting stems and long forking branches with smooth, gray-brown bark. The yellow blooms with long, thin petals accompany the oval shaped, scallop-edged green leaves in late autumn and early winter.
Witch Hazel is fond of rich, moist soil with a ph that is neutral to acidic. It can be found growing in the sun along rocky streams or in in the shade in light woods.
The best Witch Hazel plants grow in the wild. In the United States witch hazel in the wild is from where the witch hazel herb originates.
The leaves of witch hazel are picked in the summer for dry use and for witch hazel extract and witch hazel ointment.
Witch hazel branches are cut in the spring and stripped of bark, which are used to make tinctures and decoctions.
Twigs from the witch hazel tree are also harvested in the spring for use in making distilled extracts.
Several tannins, flavonoids and essential oils are contained in Witch Hazel. The tannins react with proteins and exhibit astringent, antiseptic and hemostatic properties.
Laboratory studies have shown the antioxidant effects of Witch Hazel.
Animal studies in Europe have demonstrated that witch hazel extracts support the herb's folk use to tighten distended varicose veins.
A study which used a filtered fraction of witch hazel extract demonstrated evidence that antiviral activity against the herpes simplex virus was exhibited by the witch hazel herb.