Witch hazel - when everything is dead or dying, she blooms.
It's been my mission now for over a year to find one in the wild. My dream is to be on a trail run in the dead of winter and spot in the distance the gentle ambiance of it's blooms. I've yet to find it, however, and as my father-in-law would say, it's like looking for mistletoe around here: rare.
So much lore lies behind this herb, much carried within its name alone. It is speculated that the name is derived from the fact that some of its species blooms in late fall, and others in early to mid winter. Surprise, though, when you find out that the "witch" in witch hazel comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "wych", which translates to "flexible". However, when everything is dead or dying, it is born anew and back in the early 15th century who could blame those startled at this? Few occult practices even used it's twigs as "divining rods", also used in witchcraft as wands for summoning and controlling of spirits. Legends continue as people believed it to deter snakes and pestilence, believed in mysticism and secrets within its wood.
Today, some of the mysticism continues but we use it in many other ways.
Also known by the names tobacco wood, spotted elder, and winter bloom, witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.) is native to the United States. You have numerous types of witch hazel within its species such as the Hamamelis virginiana, Hamamelis vernalis, Corylopsis spicata, which all vary in color and size. Each plant in the species can vary in use.
As it varies from type to type, most witch hazel prefer full sun and in moist soils. Those that flower in late winter may even keep their blooms up into April. Once, out of excitement, from a distance I thought a wild forsythia bush was a young witch hazel shrub; again: desperation. It's like I don't have many other herbs I need to check off on my wildcrafting list or something.
Most of the witch hazel is usable. It's high in tannins which makes it a bitter herb as well as being high in antioxidants. A decoction can be made from its bark for skin problems and tumors. Apply directly to the skin, then either bandage or let it air but switch occasionally between the two. This especially works for skin tags and hemorrhoids.
Something called "hazel water" can be made with the blooms to act as a face wash to help fight acne. You can make an extract of it with alcohol to create a strong toner, but to infuse an oil will also act as a gentle toner.
As of right now, I'm formulating a blend of witch hazel and stinging nettle for a severe case of psoriasis. It's good for psoriasis and eczema because of the anti-inflammatory capabilities and gentle toning effect.
Witch hazel has also been used by holistic practitioners to combat cancer. Its anti-carcinogenic properties exist, but sadly not enough research has been done on this to hold up much value in a medical conversation. More research needs to be done on herbs and their possibility in aiding the fight against cancer, but funds are limited and more directed to western style medical treatments and tests.
There are foundations and groups that do contribute to the study and testing of medicinal herbs. Among these groups stands the American Hebalist Guild (http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/). American College of Healthcare Sciences highly esteems this association and has invited me to it!
I can't wait to join this group soon, and I look forward to seeing where it will take me and what I could possibly contribute. It's seriously all I'll be talking and thinking about for the next three months, I'm sure.
I'm sorry, I'll hush about it now! (Oh, but it's so hard!!)
Though witch hazel has been put on the GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe), there is not enough information whether or not it is safe to take witch hazel while pregnant or breast feeding.
Author: Tina Potter
Master Herbalist, I've graduated as an American Healthcare College Alumnus, I've become a member of American Herbalist Guild and author of survivalist series Survival Ember co-authored by professional survivalist Kenny Dietrich of Ashland, KY. I've been beyond blessed with the constant desire to learn and teach.
COMMON SENSE NOTICE: I do not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. What you do with the information I post is up to you, but it is advised to consult with a doctor before acting on alternative methods of medicine. I wish you all the best!