Witch Hazel

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Hamamelis virginiana (L)

Synonyms: spotted alder, striped alder, tobacco wood, winterbloom, snapping hazelnut

Order: Hamamelidaceae

Description: Hamamelis is a small deciduous tree, up to 5m high, which grows in damp woodland throughout eastern and central US and cultivated elsewhere. It has alternate elliptic, coarsely toothed leaves with prominent veins, often finely hairy underneath Drooping axillary clusters of yellow flowers appear in the autumn when the leaves are falling and give way to a woody capsule ejecting two shiny black seeds the following year.

Parts used: bark and leaf

Collection: the leaves can be gathered throughout summer. The bark is collected in spring after sprouting.

Constituents: Bark: c10% tannin including hamamelitannin, gallic acid, saponins, volatile and fixed oil, resin. Leaves: c6% tannin, flavonoids, volatile oil.

Actions: astringent, haemostatic, antihaemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, sedative (inner bark), tonic

Indications: diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, mucous colitis, haematemesis, haemoptysis,.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Hamamelis is used to contain bleeding and excessive mucous discharge from the alimentary canal. It may be applied topically for external haemorrhoids, varicose veins, bruises, sprains and localised inflamed swellings, spots and blemishes. It can also be applied to insect bites and minor burns such as sunburn. It is most  well known in the form of distilled Witch Hazel, which may be used externally and internally, wherever there has been bleeding. It is an ingredient in eyedrops, aftershave lotions and cosmetic preparations.

Combinations: Hamamelis can be combined with Ranunculus or Plantago major for the treatment of haemorrhoids and with Agrimonia and Quercus in diarrhoea. Hamamelis Water B.P.C. combines with Calendula as a lotion for localised inflammation. It may be mixed in equal parts with rosewater for a skin tonic.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Regulatory status GSL

Dried leaf: 2g or by infusion

Liquid Extract: 1:1 in 45% alcohol, 2-4ml

Tincture: 2-4ml; dilute for mouthwash

Hamamelis Water B.P.C. locally

Additional Comments: Native Americans used Witch Hazel in poultices for painful swellings and tumours. The distilled witch hazel widely sold is not as astringent as other preparations as it contains no tannins.



BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.


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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ęPurple Sage Botanicals