What is Witch Hazel For?
In this blog post, we will answer the question what is witch hazel for as well as other questions about this valuable herb. We will explore what this herb is, what it does, how to use it, and even how to make your own witch hazel extract.
The magical qualities of witch hazel have been known for centuries. In ancient Greece, it was used to ward off evil spirits and witches. Indigenous people used the shrub as a cure-all for all sorts of ailments including sore throat, earache, skin inflammation, and snakebites.
Today, we know that witch hazel is used to treat a variety of ailments. Here are a few things that witch hazel can be used for:
- Relieves Inflammation. Inflammation is a normal immune response designed to protect your body against injury and infection.
- Reduces Skin Irritation.
- Helps Treat Hemorrhoids.
- Fights Acne.
- Alleviates Scalp Sensitivity.
- Soothes Sore Throat.
- Protects Against Skin Damage.
- Wards off Infection.
WHAT IS WITCH HAZEL FOR & HOW TO IDENTIFY?
Witch hazel is a small deciduous tree growing to 15 feet in the Eastern United States and Canada. This small tree has twisting stems and long forked branches. It can be found as an understory tree or shrub, meaning it likes to grow beneath other trees.
Although witch hazel appears rather nondescript in summer, it shines in the fall, when its leaves turn yellow, and its fragrant flowers appear.
There are several different types of witch hazel, but we’ll focus on one here: Hamamelis virginiana (the common witch hazel). This is what you’ll find at your local health food store and online for personal care products like astringents and toners.
It’s important to know how to identify witch hazel so that you don’t accidentally pick up another plant! Let’s break it down by its parts:
- The leaves of the witch hazel shrub tend to be oval-shaped, coarsely toothed, and grow in an opposite pattern. The stems are hairy.
- The bright yellow flowers are threadlike and appear in usually September and October.
- The bark of witch hazel can be scaly or smooth depending on the age of the tree or shrub. Its bark may be gray or brown with lighter colored stripes running down it.
- The branches of witch hazel are best known for their unique ability to bend or break. This is because witch hazel has rather pliable twigs due to the fact that they contain high amounts of a certain type of elastic fiber.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND WITCH HAZEL?
Witch hazel likes moist conditions and can typically be found growing wild in eastern North American woodlands and along streams and riverbanks.
HOW TO MAKE WITCH HAZEL EXTRACT?
Store-bought witch hazel is usually filled with isopropyl alcohol. The good news? You can make your own high-quality, pure extract at home that contains around 16% volatiles and will last much longer than the cheap kind from the store!
When using leaves, witch hazel extract is made as a gentle infusion (like making tea). For bark and twigs, they’re simmered for 20-30 minutes to make the extract.
To make a simple witch hazel extract, start with about a tablespoon of witch hazel bark in a cup of water.
Bring the bark and water mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes. The liquid will reduce by about half, and you’ll have roughly 1/2 cup of witch hazel extract after the plant material is filtered out.
If using leaves, use the same ratio, 1 tablespoon chopped leaves to a cup of water, but make an infusion by steeping the leaves for around 20 minutes.
Your witch hazel extract is now ready to use. It should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a week.
I like to dry my witch hazel leaves and bark so that I have the plant material available whenever I need to make an extract.
SHELF STABLE WITCH HAZEL EXTRACT
If you desire to have an extract on hand that will last much longer on the shelf without going bad, you can add a high-proof vodka, whisky, or rum. (Isopropyl alcohol will also work, but then it’s not for internal use.)
To be shelf-stable for between 1-2 years, your extract will need to contain about 25% alcohol.
That means if you’ve started with 1 cup of water and simmered it down to 1/2 cup extract, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup of 100 proof alcohol (50% ABV) to reach a final concentration of 25% alcohol.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS
Medical professionals consider witch hazel to be safe when applied directly on the skin, but not if swallowed. This is because witch hazel contains tannins that can cause stomach problems like nausea and vomiting if consumed in large amounts.
*Folk herbalists consider drinking a tea from witch hazel or taking a tincture of witch hazel prepared with high-quality alcohol (never isopropyl) to be generally safe.
People prone to rosacea, a skin condition that causes redness and swollen bumps on their face should be cautious about using witch hazel. If you have dry or sensitive skin please check with your doctor before applying this product.
MORE HERBAL REMEDIES
Now that we have answered the question of what is witch hazel for, how to identify it in the wild, and its medicinal uses and benefits – are there any other herbal remedies you’re interested in learning about? We would love to be your go-to resource for all things related to herbal living. Sign up today so we can send you our latest articles and resources on herbal medicines!