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Witch Hazel

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a very versatile remedy, with generally accepted uses ranging from facial care to soothing of aching feet. It is also used for the treatment of haemorrhoids, inflammation of the mouth and throat, varicose veins, wounds and burns.

The medicinal element of witch hazel is the hamamelis water that is distilled, decocted, or tinctured from fresh and dried leaves, and fresh and dried bark and twigs. Tannins and volatile oils are the primary active ingredients of witch hazel that contribute to its astringent benefits. The tannin content of witch hazel leaves is 8%, and in witch hazel bark ranges from 1?3%, as the medicine derived from the bark will yield a higher tannin concentration than that from leaves. Recent research done in Asia indicates that it is the tannin content of witch hazel that is chiefly responsible for its strong antioxidant activity.

As with other herbal astringents, witch hazel reduces the irritation on the tissue surface through a form of numbing. Surface inflammation is reduced and the astringent creates a partial barrier against infection. That barrier aids in the treatment of wounds and burns. The astringency helps to stop bleeding, so witch hazel is useful in treating bruises, cuts and other skin abrasions.

A cold compress of witch hazel is said to ease a headache. Cosmetically, witch hazel is used as a facial skin freshener and astringent to reduce pore size, as a make-up remover and to reduce bags under eyes. Products for men that contain witch hazel include herbal shaving cream and aftershave.

Recent studies carried out in Germany and the United Kingdom have established that witch hazel extract offers some protection against UV radiation prior to sun exposure as well as relieving the inflammation of sunburn.

As a topical astringent, witch hazel water is applied directly to burns, bruises, insect bites and aching muscles. It can be used to clean oily skin, remove makeup or, mixed with water, as a relaxing footbath. Uses for the gel include treating cuts, nappy rash, and bedsores.


Witch hazel is a multi-faceted remedy that is administered in several ways. Applications of witch hazel include:

* Gargle with a decoction of 1 teaspoon of witch hazel bark that has been steeped 10 minutes in boiling water and then strained.
* For skin conditions, ointment or cream can be used twice a day or as needed.
* Tincture can be placed directly on affected areas.
* A poultice can be applied to wounds and sores.
* Witch hazel extracts can be applied in combination with warm, moist compresses in the morning or at bedtime.
* For bruises, a washcloth can be used for a witch hazel compress. An ice cube placed inside the cloth keeps the compress cold and diminishes swelling.

Witch hazel's applications include various methods for treating haemorrhoids:

* A hamamelis suppository can be inserted at bedtime to reduce inflammation of a swollen vein.
* For relief of haemorrhoids, Weil recommends moistening toilet paper with witch hazel. This compress is used to clean the anal area after bowel movements.


Haemorrhoid treatment accounts for two remedies that combine witch hazel with another herb, such as pilewort. Pilewort is also known as celandine. Another haemorrhoid remedy combines witch hazel with horse chestnut.

Witch hazel is combined with aloe vera in commercial products such as skin care treatments. Home recipes for facial cleanser and mask include witch hazel, essential oils and other ingredients.


When witch hazel is administered in designated therapeutic dosages, no health risks have been recorded. However, when witch hazel is taken internally, its tannin content can lead to digestive complaints.

Witch hazel water is intended for external use and most sources cite recommended dosages are for adults. The amount should be adjusted for older people and for the chronically ill. Individuals should check with their doctors about use of witch hazel.

External use of witch hazel may result in minor skin irritation for some people. When this occurs, the amount of witch hazel should be diluted.


Opinion varies about the side-effects caused when witch hazel is taken internally. The tannin content can cause stomach irritation or cramping. A dose of 1 gram of witch hazel will cause nausea, vomiting or constipation.


Those on blood thinners for circulatory trouble should take internal witch hazel preparations with caution if at all. Witch hazel should not be taken internally with medications containing alkaloids, as it interferes with their absorption. Alkaloid drugs include atropine and codeine.

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