The earliest works on medicinal plants included witch hazel, primarily noting its use to treat eye inflammations, hemorrhoids, bites, stings and skin sores, diarrhea and dysentery, and many other conditions for which a plant high in tannins would produce relief by virtue of its astringency. Herbalists consider it one of the best plant medicines to check bleeding, both internally and externally. A tea made from the bark or leaves is given to stop internal bleeding. A poultice of the fresh leaves or bark was considered useful for relieving the pain and swelling of inflammations. Dipped in a cotton ball, witch hazel water is dabbed on insect bites to calm pain and relieve itching.

Witch hazel

This natural astringent can be applied to cotton or linen compresses and topically placed on the hemorrhoid. It is recommended to apply this type of compress three to four times per day for around 15 minutes each session. Depending upon how a preparation is made witch hazel products contain varying amounts of active compounds such as flavonoids, tannins (hamamelitannin and proanthocyanidins), small amounts of volatile oil, and other components, which may be responsible for its astringent action and to stop bleeding. The bark contains 31 times more hamamelitannin than the leaf extract, so preparation is important. In distilled witch hazel products much of the tannin content is lost.

Approved by the FDA

While most herbs are sold as dietary supplement, witch hazel is one of very few American medicinal plants still approved as an ingredient in non-prescription drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. Witch hazel is approved as an over-the-counter astringent in the external analgesic (pain-relieving), skin protectant categories, and as an external anorectal, primarily used for symptomatic relieve of hemorrhoids (as pads, ointments, or suppositories). In Germany, the bark and leaf are approved solutions in mild diarrhea, inflammation of the gums and mucous membranes of the mouth, and mild irritation or local inflammation of the skin, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins. There, witch hazel is considered astringent, inhibits-inflammation, and locally styptic.

Other Common Names:

witchhazel, witch-hazel, hamamelis ovalis, hamamelis virginiana

References

1. Foster, S. The Wiley Witch Hazel. The Herb Companion.( January 1989).

2. Erdelmeier, C. A. J. et al. Antiviral and Antiphlogistic Activities of Hamamelis virginiana Bark. Planta Medica, 62(1996) (3):241-245

3. Korting, H. C., et al. “Comparative Efficacy of Hamamelis Distillate and Hydrocortisone. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 48(1995)(6):461-465.

4. Lloyd, J. U. and J. T. Lloyd. History of Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Extract and Distillate. Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. 24(1935) (3):220&emdash;24.

5. Masaki, H., T. Atsumi, and H. Sakurai. “Protective Activity of Hamamelitannin on Cell Damage of Murine Skin Fibroblasts Induced by UVB Radiation. Journal of Dermatological Science. 10(1995)(1):25.34.