What is Witch Hazel?

Mary McMahon

Witch hazel is a low growing shrub native to North America. It has a long history of use medicinally, and cultivation of the bush has spread to Europe for this purpose. Preparations of it ranging from tinctures to soothing creams are available in most drug stores, as well as specialty stores for skin care. The plant acts as an astringent, firming and tightening tissue and acting to reduce itching and irritation. Other properties have also been ascribed to witch hazel, making it an excellent all-purpose addition to the medicine cabinet.

Some shaving products contain witch hazel, commonly used as an astringent.
Some shaving products contain witch hazel, commonly used as an astringent.

Four species of witch hazel are included in the genus Hamamelis. All of the plants have simple alternating leaves with wavy edges, and bright yellow flowers that appear in the fall. Simultaneously, the fruit of the flowers from the previous year matures. When the seeds have fully ripened, the pods crack open explosively, ejecting the seeds into the surrounding area. This trait has led to another common name, snapping hazel.

Witch hazel may help reduce itching, redness and irritation caused by mosquito bites.
Witch hazel may help reduce itching, redness and irritation caused by mosquito bites.

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Some people erroneously believe that the plant name is related to witches. In fact, the origins are a bit more mundane. The “witch” is merely a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word wych, meaning flexible. The branches of this plant are well known for their pliancy. However, the plant does have some mystical associations, since the branches are said to make very suitable dowsing rods.

Witch hazel.
Witch hazel.

Distillations, tinctures, and teas of the witch hazel plant have been used for hundreds of years to treat a wide assortment of ailments. To create a distillation, the plant is steamed to extract the valuable volatile oils. Tinctures are made with bark suspended in alcohol to leach out its useful compounds, and teas are made with leaves, bark, and flowers boiled in water. For internal applications, tea is used. Tinctures and distillations are intended for external use.

Witch hazel may help manage acne breakouts.
Witch hazel may help manage acne breakouts.

Research conducted on witch hazel suggests that it acts in a number of ways. As an astringent, it can pull the irritation out of insect bites, sun burns, and sore muscles. It can also be used as a toner on the face and body, or to soothe irritated tissue. It also appears to have some surface numbing properties, which is why it is used on sore muscles. Some skincare lotions and creams contain witch hazel, as do shaving products. It can also be purchased in the form of a pure extract or tincture.

Witch hazel toner can help dramatically improve the complexion.
Witch hazel toner can help dramatically improve the complexion.

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Discussion Comments


Witch hazel is also good for acne. It's not as strong as some preparations, and can really help a mild case. I used witch hazel a lot as a teenager and I always liked the way it made my skin feel. It dried out the zits without drying my skin.

Also good for bug bites.


i want to know what type of witch hazel cream use for hemorrhoids? can anyone give me the correct type of witch hazel cream (i want the name of the cream), please? --greefin


witch hazel grows in abundance in eastern conn. and western Rhode Island. Dickinsons in Hampton, Conn. seems to have the contracts to take the raw material in this part of the country.


Research it. You can find different sizes. I found a whole pound for 20.00. But you have to look.


anon38807 I have the information you need to locate fresh herbs. I am from southern Missouri. The woods is where to find witch hazel. Research goods from the woods they are an established supplier of products that are harvested locally from sustainable grounds. check them out


Looking for the raw witch hazel herb. does anyone know where one can locate this? I used to be able to locate this at my local natural health food store but they no longer carry this.

Anyone have any leads?


It is said that Native Americans were the first to figure out the medicinal properties of witch hazel. They used the bark to reduce inflammation.

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