Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana L. )

One of the most potent anti-inflammatory and beneficial trees found in the Appalachians.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana L. )

Witch hazel foilage in July (notice the new witch hazel nuts).

AKA: spotted alder, striped alder, tobacco-wood, winter-bloom, snapping-hazel, southern witch-hazel.

This incredible deciduous tree / shrub, native to North America, has been used medicinally, as a food source, and "magically" (water-witching) by Europeans and Native Americans alike for centuries. It mainly grows in the eastern U.S., with some distribution in the west and north (see distribution map below). Witch hazel is usually found in woodlands near running water or at the edge of forests.

Witch hazel is also quite distinct in that its flowers bloom in the fall, rather than in the spring or summer. Thus, when all appears to be dead in the Appalachian wilderness, the bright yellow, spider-like flowers of witch hazel stand out against the brown and gray background. Witch hazel is also unique in that it boasts flowers and ripe fruit at the same time. (Source: Newton)

Ethnobotanical uses (used by the Cherokee, Chippewa, Iroquois, Menominee, Mohegan, and Potawatomi tribes):

  • The Cherokee used an infusion of witch hazel for colds, fevers, scratches, sore throat, tuberculosis, and more. They also made a tea from it.
  • The Chippewa used an infusion of witch hazel's inner bark to treat skin ailments, sore eyes, and also to induce vomiting (emetic).
  • The Iroquois used different parts of witch hazel to treat arthritis, colds, coughs, dysentery, hemorrhaging, kidney problems, cholera, bruises, lung ailments, asthma, toothache, and more.
  • The Mohegans used an infusion of witch hazel to treat bug bites. They also used witch hazel sticks to locate underground water.

(Source: University of Michigan: Native American Ethnobotany).

Current uses of Witch Hazel:

  • Used in both medicinal products (such as anti-hemorrhoid drugs) and cosmetics.
  • Extracts of witch hazel can be found in just about any pharmacy.
  • Today, most witch hazel extract is produced in Connecticut, using basically the same process as that developed by T. N. Dickinson (who got the idea from Native Americans). That is, the entire plant is chipped, distilled, and the liquid is then preserved with alcohol.

(Source: State of Rhode Island: Department of Environmental Management)

Anti-inflammatory Properties of Witch Hazel:

Not unlike jewelweed, the bark and twigs of witch hazel contain anti-inflammatory, astringent chemicals that are used to treat various kinds of dermatological irritations.

Hamamelitannin

One of the central healing ingredients in witch hazel is hamamelitannin. According to a study by the University of Greenwich, hamamelitannin has shown promising anti-TNF (tumor necrosis factor) properties.

Distribution of Witch Hazel:

Edible Uses:

Steve Hurst @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database      USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database  

The nuts (seeds) of witch hazel are quite edible (if you can find them before they launch), and are said to taste something like pistachio nuts. As mentioned before, witch hazel seed capsules project the small black seeds as far as 30 feet away to ensure wide distribution of its offspring. This ejection is usually accompanied by a loud snapping noise, which is why some call witch hazel "snapping-hazel." (Sources: Newton, Ohio.gov)


Witch hazel nuts in early July (still green and unopened).

DID YOU KNOW: Witch hazel was used (by both European settlers and Native Americans) to locate water (or treasure) underground, which is called water-witching (or "dowsing"), and the twig used is called a divining rod. (Source: Newton)


This article is meant for informational purposes only and should never be used to replace professional medical advice. Also, do not attempt to eat any plants mentioned here without the distinct identification and consent of a professional botanist and / or forager.

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