Witch-hazel grows in dry woods from Nova Scotia to Ontario and south through the eastern United States.
Witch-hazel grows in dry woods from Nova Scotia to Ontario and south through the eastern United States.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


Witch-hazel's primary use has been as a treatment for wounds, bleeding, and dry, itchy, or irritated skin. Many First Nations employed witch-hazel for these purposes. It was quickly adopted by settlers and then, in the 1800s, became a popular ingredient in commercial toiletries and patent medicines.

Historically, witch-hazel has also been used to treat inflamed eyes and been taken internally for gastro-intestinal problems.

Witch-hazel's primary use has been as a treatment for wounds, bleeding, and dry, itchy, or irritated skin. Many First Nations employed witch-hazel for these purposes. It was quickly adopted by settlers and then, in the 1800s, became a popular ingredient in commercial toiletries and patent medicines.

Historically, witch-hazel has also been used to treat inflamed eyes and been taken internally for gastro-intestinal problems.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Witch-hazel contains a large amount of tannin, which is very astringent, and probably the main reason for witch-hazel's long reputation as a styptic and a skin treatment. However, witch-hazel contains a number of other chemical components that may contribute to its effects.

Studies done to date, while limited, suggest that witch-hazel does have a mild anti-inflammatory effect when applied to the skin.

Today, witch-hazel is found primarily in skin-care products, such as after-sun lotions and aftershave. It is also an ingredient in several over-the-counter preparations for hemorrhoids, and is used, especially in Europe, for treating varicose veins and inflammation of the gums.

Researchers have also found that witch-hazel contains small quantities of natural toxic compounds. For this reason, it is now recommended that people exercise caution if taking witch-hazel internally.

Witch-hazel contains a large amount of tannin, which is very astringent, and probably the main reason for witch-hazel's long reputation as a styptic and a skin treatment. However, witch-hazel contains a number of other chemical components that may contribute to its effects.

Studies done to date, while limited, suggest that witch-hazel does have a mild anti-inflammatory effect when applied to the skin.

Today, witch-hazel is found primarily in skin-care products, such as after-sun lotions and aftershave. It is also an ingredient in several over-the-counter preparations for hemorrhoids, and is used, especially in Europe, for treating varicose veins and inflammation of the gums.

Researchers have also found that witch-hazel contains small quantities of natural toxic compounds. For this reason, it is now recommended that people exercise caution if taking witch-hazel internally.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Witch-hazel is a popular garden shrub available at most nurseries and from mail-order suppliers. It is prized by gardeners for its unusual habit of sporting tufts of yellow flowers in late fall or winter, a time when few other plants bloom. It can grow to a height of 5 metres, usually with several open, graceful stems that look attractive all year.
Witch-hazel is a popular garden shrub available at most nurseries and from mail-order suppliers. It is prized by gardeners for its unusual habit of sporting tufts of yellow flowers in late fall or winter, a time when few other plants bloom. It can grow to a height of 5 metres, usually with several open, graceful stems that look attractive all year.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Humphreys' Witch Hazel Oil

Museum of Health Care at Kingston

© Museum of Health Care at Kingston


The witch-hazel processed in North America is wildcrafted or gathered from managed wood-lots, primarily in the New England region of the United States.
The witch-hazel processed in North America is wildcrafted or gathered from managed wood-lots, primarily in the New England region of the United States.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

In the 1840s, Theron T. Pond began marketing Pond's Extract, one of the first witch-hazel products that could be bought ready-made and handily packaged. Pond's company, building on the success of this first product, grew to become an international producer of cosmetics.
 
In the 1840s, Theron T. Pond began marketing Pond's Extract, one of the first witch-hazel products that could be bought ready-made and handily packaged. Pond's company, building on the success of this first product, grew to become an international producer of cosmetics.
 

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • describe the plant Witch-hazel;
  • explain why Witch-hazel is interesting as a plant remedy.

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