The summer’s harvest yielded a fantastic Witch Hazel oil. This is a fragrant, cooling and astringent healing oil made from fresh Hamamelis Virginiana leaves, Violet absolute and Vitamin E.. I am very, very pleased with the results. There is an easy harmony and synergy between these two shade loving medicinals. Besides the obvious similarities in colour, fragrance and “temperature” they share a strong astrological affinity.
I feel a bit like an old-time snake oil salesman, ha ha. Combine that with an impaling act and I have my very own travelling sideshow! Though this oil is not a panacea or cure-all by any stretch, it will most definitely cool and soothe any hot, bothered or irritated external part of your body, while tightening and puckering up the area.
Though Oleum Hamamelis, or Witch Hazel oil is more emollient and soothing than the better know Witch Hazel Extract and distillate, there are few plants that have such a cooling effect, as Witch Hazel, (Violet is #2). Razor burns, hot irritated skin, boils, hemorrhoids and piles, sunburn, chafing, minor burns and achy varicose veins. Witch Hazel oil reduces pain and irritation, cools and relieves excessive heat, and does so quickly. Witch Hazel is also also used traditionally to reduce the swelling and pain of varicose veins.
Sometimes a single 2″ diameter trunk/stalk will grow to over 15 feet, reaching from the ground, up and out, gracefully arching and positioning itself strategically to catch stray beams of sunshine that slip by the taller trees. Low enough to jockey for second-hand light, but just high enough the deer can’t gobble up its leaves. Tough, resilient and enduring, this lovely lady of the dark woods will contort in zigs and zags at every leaf juncture to grab a missed beam of sunlight.
There is something stoic and enduring about Witch Hazel. Her wood is tough and stringy, almost impossible to break, dead or alive. Very difficult to propagate from cuttings or from seed, she spits her projectile seeds up to 30 feet away, and though germination rate is very low, she is so tenacious and hardy that when her seedlings do sprout, they somehow manage to survive the harsh life of the forest floor till they are tall enough to avoid being eaten.
If, as I have said in the past, Myrrh represents the flavor of bitter, then Witch Hazel is the paragon of astringent in the vegetable kingdom. She is a gum-sucking puckerer, as if drawing the molecules of moisture from the tissues of your mouth.
From the bark of her elegantly arching branches, through the green of her crisp, paper-thin leaves, to the scrawny straggly yellow petals of her fall and winter blooming flowers, Witch Hazel has a distinct, lovely, and almost astringent fragrance. A perfume that endures through gentle distillations and light handed percolations in oil. Not only is she beautiful to behold, and a medicinal wonder, but she smells lovely too. What more could one ask from a woodland lady?
With her cold astringent nature, it is obvious why Witch Hazel is under the planetary rulership of Saturn. Though in my opinion, beautiful, earthy Taurus is her ruling sign, and is just as important an influence on her personality, and medicinal applications. This dovetails perfectly with the lovely Violet, who is born under Venus.
This oil of Hamamelis is beautifully complemented by Violet absolute, (A Co2 extraction of the fragrance and healing properties of the Violet leaf ), and Vitamin E. The mutual support of these two herbs is obvious in their easy union with each other in fragrance, colour, rulerships, temperature and medicinal effects. Witch Hazel oil is a simplebut powerful healer for those tender, painful hotspots, inflammations and flareups when they happen.
This oil is now posted and available in my Etsy store, and in Humblepie, for those living in Hamilton. If you have difficulty finding it, or have any questions about it, please drop me a line by phone, email or leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
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