WITCH HAZEL-NATIVE TO NORTH AMERICA,HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES
The Witch Hazel tree has a curious history surrounding its name. When the first colonists arrived in America, they found this tree growing. The Native Americans used it for reducing swellings, making poultices form the leaves, twigs and bark of this tree. It looks a little like the Hazel tree (Coryllus avellana) and in Britain there is the wych elm so it would seem that the early colonists combined the names but modern spelling has called he tree the witch rather than wych hazel. Presumably it is called virginiana after the colony of Virginia which was named after Queen Elizabeth I who was known as the Virgin Queen as she never married. Hamamelis is a combination of the word hamam meaning bath or more specifically the Turkish bath and meli which is Greek for apple and honey. There are many kinds of Witch Hazel trees one of which is Hamamelis mollis which has its origins in China and seems not to have the same medicinal properties of the American variety. This one was introduced into the UK from China in the 1880s and is used for ornamental purposes only.
Hamamelis virginiana can grow in the UK but does not produce seeds, but this tree gets its name Snapping Hazel, it is thought because when they seeds ripen the pod ejects them rather violently and a definite noise can be heard. It is also called Winterbloom as its leaves fall in autumn and the flowers then appear. These can be yellow-gold, or red or orange, and the nuts appear after the flowers have died. The trees usually only grow to heights of between 10 and 12 feet, and have several slender trunks coming from one root system.
The leaves and bark of this Witch Hazel have astringent qualities due to the tannins they contain and they have been used as a sedative and tonic. Today the extracts prepared from the leaves, twigs and bark of the tree are used in preparations to reduce the pain of piles and to dispel them, and Witch Hazel has been approved for such use by the German Commission E a which has also approved the tisane from the leaves for gargling to reduce the inflammation associated with a sore throat. It is also taken to help skin problems along with cream containing witch hazel extracts.
In the past Witch Hazel’s parts have been used to stop internal bleeding and haemorrhage. A decoction was used for excessive bleeding during periods and in the event of back-street abortions it was given to prevent bleeding and as a general tonic.
A tisane of the bark or leaves or a combination of both was used for stomach problems and applied externally to varicose veins.
The extract available over the counter is good for insect bites, and inflammation of the eyelids as well as for piles.
The leaves contain tannins as does the bark, and flavonoids including kaempferol and quercetin. The leaves also contain caffeic and gallic acids which are both phenolic acids. The tree has been used for centuries for the same ailments, and it seems that the extracts from it work without ill effects except perhaps for slight irritation and a burning sensation when the cream or lotion is applied to weeping piles.