Witch Hazel, Healer in the deep dark woods.

Witch Hazel-Hamamelis Virginiana, Hamilton Ontario May 2013
Witch Hazel-Hamamelis Virginiana, Hamilton Ontario May 2013

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.

Witch Hazel Scavenging Sunlight 2013
Dweller in the understory of the forest Witch Hazel can look a little spooky in the dark, especially flowering at Halloween.

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!

English: A symbol of a tree (modified lead/Sat...
English: A symbol of a tree (modified lead/Saturn symbol) used in herbaries, pharmacopoeias etc. Polski: Symbol drzewa (zmodyfikowany symbol ołowiu/Saturna) stosowany w zielnikach, farmakopeach itp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Virginiana- Fresh harvested Leaf & Twig-Green Medicine
Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Virginiana- Fresh harvested Leaf & Twig – Green Medicine

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.

Witch hazel in the snow

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.

Witch Hazel leaves, similar in shape and size to Hazel tree leaves 2013- Ontario
Witch Hazel leaves, similar in shape and size to Hazel tree leaves . It is thought that traditional dowsing found its birth in 14th century Germany and has flourished,(controversially), since. Different materials have been used over time for dowsing and the art of dowsing has not been limited to the discovery of subterranean water. Dowsing has been applied to the search for precious ores and minerals, Petroleum oil, lost objects, treasure and really anything else that one might need to find. For the purpose of dowsing for water, Witch Hazel, willow, apple and peach tree branches were/are among the most popular.

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.

Modern day Dowsing rods.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditional dowsing or divining rods are made by taking a fork in the branch so one has a Y shape. The two arms of the Y are each held in a hand with thumbs pointing outward and the main, connecting axis upright. When one comes in proximity to that which one is seeking, the main the rod bends or bobs downward towards the item that one is dowsing for. Variations abound on the shape and material of dowsing rods. One of the simplest and most popular designs now days is the use of two pieces of wire, or coat hangers, each bent in an L shape,each with a long and a short side, with the short side held loosely in ones fist while the long ( receptive ) gently rests on the side of ones forefinger. A pivot point is found which balances both rods parallel to each other and creates a delicate status quo where they can swing dramatically towards or away from each other at the slightest disturbance. Whether these disturbances are caused by external energetic influences, or internal impulses that direct the rods is an ongoing debate. Similar in some ways to divining with a pendulum, any one can try dowsing, and divining with a pendulum and decide the validity of these methods for themselves.

Witch Hazel-Hamamelis Virginiana, Hamilton Ontario May 2013
Witch Hazel-Hamamelis Virginiana, Hamilton Ontario May 2013
Getting back to the healing properties of the Witch Hazel tree, we are very lucky to have such a versatile healing resource in our back yard. Every year or two, I harvest a modest amount of twig and leaf and prepare some medicine. This year it is a batch of Witch Hazel oil for cremes and salves, a water based extract that has all the tannins, bitter principals, flavonoids and anti-oxidants in it, and a distilled aqueous extract preserved with the alcohol from the infusion, which brings with it the essential oils and any other volatile components. The tannins and flavonoids are left behind in the maceration to be separated and used in a creme and liniment. Another unusual fact about Witch Hazel is that the distilled product one purchases at the store does not contain any tannins, which are considered the main astringent compounds in the leaf and twigs, yet the distillate of Witch Hazel does a great job of being a powerful and gentle astringent without them! It reminds me a bit of the “Magic” of Homeopathy. Why? How? It just does.

Fine cut Witch Hazel Leaves before addition of alcohol/water,maceration prior to distillation.
Fine cut Witch Hazel Leaves before addition of alcohol/water for maceration prior to distillation.
Witch Hazel, Olive oil maceration or infusion. a base for for cremes and salves.
Witch Hazel, Olive oil maceration or infusion. a base for for cremes and salves.

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.

Witch Hazel Maceration in alcohol/distilled water. After distilling off the alcohol, essential oils and some of the water, we will have a medicinal liquid full of flavinoids, tanins,anti-oxidents.
Witch Hazel Maceration in alcohol/distilled water. After distilling off the alcohol, essential oils and some of the water, we will have a rich healing solution full of flavonoids, tannins, anti-oxidents and more. A wonderful base for a variety of healing cremes, salves and liniments all available in the Shop.

Dan

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/commercial-preparations-of-sandalwood-oil#ixzz2UWDe1eos

3 Comments

  1. Riveting article, Dan. Photos are excellent. Witch Hazel is so beautiful. I’ve not seen one but I sure would like to. What a plethora of wonderful information.

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  2. Another walk in the woods! I like that Runic glyph of Saturn. The wire divining rods look Runic also, which makes me ponder the way Runes really work, and how they dip to psychic and telluric strata.

    Now! the famous haemorrhoid St Johns Wort oil you sent me – I found a good use for it. Is there witch-hazel in it? I had a small dry patch on my face for weeks, which wouldn’t heal and was very sore. Then I put your oil on it a few times, and lo! it disappeared – no longer sore – healed completely and at once. These plants have power … the respect with which they are handled and distilled. Nature’s wisdom, as witched, flexed, and passed down through the centuries until recently. Thank you Dan, for re-membering it.

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