Being Saturday’s Child and ruled by Saturn, this last full moon was perfect for harvesting Witch Hazel leaves and twigs at their fullness, before they succumb to bugs and the wear and tear of the year. I feel a sense of delight each time I point out Witch Hazel trees, and the thrill of exposing a friend playing hide and seek. At the same time, I am always honoured such a world famous individual should thrive in my own back yard. Witch Hazel is used by millions around the world for its powerful and reliable healing properties.
There is an eerie image associated with Witch Hazel, one that obviously starts with its name. Witch Hazel is an understory tree, this means it is content to live in the shade of other more statuesque and well known sun loving trees. In this darker understory forest world, Witch Hazel strategically places leaves on each zig, and each zag of its crooked forked branches to catch as many beams of sunlight from the high forest canopy as it can. This unique crookedness adds to the feeling of eeriness that shrouds it. Reaching out like bony hands, a name that conjures images of wart nosed, child eating crones, Hazel even flowers around Halloween time when most of the trees are bare and the forest is populated by skeletons. The bravest of us might feel a twinge of panic as we are grabbed by those crooked gnarled finger branches in the dark forest dusk. Spooky. Lucky for us there is much more to this tree than its name and its appearance.
The early North American settlers were so impressed by the many medicinal uses local native tribes found for this modest shrub, they not only incorporated it in their own healing systems, but they developed new products with it, built factories to process it, and popularized its use all over Europe where it is still used by millions of people every year for a broad range of healing applications. Witch Hazel is one of the best yet gentlest astringents available. Externally and internally it tightens, tones, cools and heals. The extract and the distillate of Witch Hazel leaves, twigs and bark are used to stop bleeding, cool and reduce inflammations and swelling. A tea or decoction was used by native tribes to treat diarrhea, dysentery, amenorrhea, and as a gargle for sore throat, sore or inflamed gums or loose teeth. Witch hazel is a key ingredient in many over the counter products for hemorrhoids, piles and varicose veins. It is recommended for postpartum bleeding and soreness, diaper rash, insect bites, poison ivy, chicken pox symptoms, tired eyes, swollen eyes and bags under the eyes. It is used effectively to treat itches and rashes, cuts and scrapes, it reduces bruising and swelling from blows. It is an excellent treatment for minor burns, scalds, sunburn, windburn, chafing and chapping. Witch Hazel is one of the few natural products that can help with the pain and discomfort of varicose veins, reducing pressure and inflammation, strengthening and toning vein walls and is one of the most recommended natural remedies for easing and treating hemorrhoids, piles and the trials of childbirth. You can find Witch Hazel in anti-aging products, wrinkle cremes and acne medication, The distillate is a reliable and effective skin toner and cleanser and can be dabbed on pimples to reduce inflammation. It makes an excellent aftershave lotion, acts as a styptic to stop bleeding and heal razor cuts, and regular use may improve facial skin and reduce the likelihood of it. I have come across it as a treatment or remedy for psoriasis and eczema. Quite a list of uses for such a modest looking shrub hiding in the shade of bigger trees in the forest!
From an Astrodynamic perspective, Witch Hazel is ruled by Saturn. Saturn is the great teacher, limiter, restrictor and constrictor, setter of boundaries, rules, laws and consequences. Saturn’s energy is considered cold & dry, astringent and bitter, inward drawing, limiting and defining. It governs the slow and steady, order and form, structure and crystallization. It is obvious when looking at the qualities of Witch Hazel that there are a great many benefits and medicinal applications to all these cold, contracting, restricting and limiting energies. Even though Saturn is considered an “unlucky” planet from some astrological perspectives, It provides the perfect counterpoint when things are hot and bothered, loose or swollen, flowing, uncontrolled, itchy, scratchy and painful.
Hamamelis Virginiana, Winterbloom, Snap Hazel There is mostly consensus as to how Witch Hazel got its names. Though it does not belong to the Hazel tree family, there is a great similarity of its leaves and seed pods/ovums to the Hazel or Hazel nut tree. That is the straightforward part. Its first name, “Witch” is thought to come from old Saxon and middle English word-Wicce, or “Wyche”, which means “bends” or bending, flexible or “Lively” according to some sources, referring to either the suppleness and flexibility of its branches, or the gnarled, zig-zag bend to its branches at each leaf node and its raggedy zigzag flower petals. This is believed to also be the root of our word “wicker” as in basket weaving, where thin pliable strips of bark or wood are soaked in water and woven together to create baskets, tools and furniture. The word “Wicca” and the word “witch” are also thought to be derivatives of this word. That covers the English name of our tree of the day, The Latin name has its own roots and meanings. “Hamamelis Virginiana”. The Virginiana part refers to the area it grows in, eastern united states from Florida up to Ontario and I believe into Quebec and Nova Scotia. The first part of its name, “Hamamelis” is theorized to come from 2 Latin words, Hama, “at the same time”, or “together with”, and Mela meaning “Fruit”, referring to another of the Witch Hazels unique qualities, that it flowers, (Fragrant!), in the fall/winter, while releasing its “fruit” of the last season.. Flower and Fruit at the same time, Hama-Melis.
This fall/ winter flowering has also given rise to another name for Witch Hazel which is “Winterbloom”. Witch Hazel has another very unique attribute portrayed by another of its names, “Snapping Hazel” When the seed pods mature they release the seeds with a loud popping or snapping sound and shoot them a great distance, from 10 to 20 feet away from the tree.This is indeed a very unusual looking and behaving tree. However we are not done extolling the virtues and the idiosyncrasies of this modest shrub. Another of the unique qualities attributed to Witch Hazel is its usefulness for dowsing. This method of looking for water hidden underground has also been called “Water Witching“. and Witch Hazel has either gained her name, or lent her name to this activity from being so well suited and so often used when “witching for water”. Which Witch is which, and which came first, we will never know.
According to historical records, it seems that our current methods of water dowsing, (Wyching or witching), were developed in the mid 1400’s. Dowsing gained enough of a popular following that it was banned by the Church in Germany. At the time, forked branches from trees such as ash, elm, Hazel and willow were used to divine the whereabouts of underground water sources, mineral ores and treasure. Since then, there has been much research done on the accuracy of dowsing, to determine whether it is a science, art or hoax. I think there are still ongoing studies and experiments and there may always be.
p So… Here,(on the left), is the maceration in preparation for distillation of Witch Hazel. After collecting the distillate and adjusting it to 14% alcohol, the remaining aqueous solution will be pressed out of the maceration and used in cremes and liniments for Acne, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, etc..This solution is full of all the obviously astringent, antioxidant and healing compounds found in the leaf and twigs of the tree. Besides tannins, bioflavonoids resins and essential oils, Witch Hazel leaf, twigs and bark contain many other important phytochemicals. Here is a link to further information on its chemical constituents. The photo on the right is of the oleous extract macerating. It too will be used for external applications similar to and sometimes combined with the aqueous solution in light water oil emulsion cremes. A tea & a tincture are available for internal use when recommended by a healthcare professional.
When this years Witch Hazel products are ready and on the shop shelves I will post links to them here if anyone would like to purchase and try them.
- 15 Wonderful Uses for Witch Hazel (homesimplicity.wordpress.com)
- Top 5 Natural Summer Skin Remedies (undergroundhealth.com)
- Best Kept Beauty Secret…Witch Hazel! (chicavenuedaily.com)
- Herbal Medicine Kit – Bruises (smplyliving.wordpress.com)
- Witch Hazel-Alternative to Toner (urbancountrygal.wordpress.com)