Available in lotions, pads, distilled extracts and even suppositories, witch hazel uses are widespread. Earlier this summer I was weeding in shorts, and I was stung or bitten on my inner thigh by an unknown insect. It was incredibly painful. Immediately after the incident, it hurt to walk. I hobbled to the pool house to run some water over the swelling. Looking in the medicine cabinet I found an unopened bottle of witch hazel extract.
I read the summary which included relieving discomfort of minor skin irritations or bug bites and applied it on my newly bitten skin. My skin tightened and the pain subsided very quickly. The smell was pleasantly medicinal and herbal. Every few hours I applied it to the bite and within a day or so it was unmemorable. For centuries humans have pressed, boiled and steamed American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) for health reasons.
Witch Hazel Plant
Flowering in the fall, American witch hazel is a small deciduous tree. American, also known as common, witch hazel can be found from Novia Scotia to Minnesota down to northern Florida. Three other species exist in North American, which flower in the spring, and two species can be found in China and Japan. The ribbon shaped petals are light to bright yellow. A 2012 article published in The American Chemical Society and American Society of Pharmacognosy, stated that the bark of the tree which contains specific tannins fights colon cancer cells. It is important to note that these tannins are toxic to dogs in large quantities. If you have pets and livestock it’s important to know what are toxins.
A favorite among gardeners since it is the only tree in North America to have flowers, ripe fruit and next year’s leaf buds on one branch at the same time, witch hazel provides color in the fall and is fragrant. It grows best in Zones three to nine and are adaptable to soil conditions, but prefer moist soil as they are considered an understory plant.
Creating Your Own Witch Hazel Extract
By growing your own shrub you will be able to harvest branches and create your own witch hazel extract. By pruning one pound of branches during or near the end of them blooming, you will create the strongest tonic. Remove the leaves and flowers and chop the branches into mulch-size pieces. The excess leaves and flowers can be used for scenting clothes or rooms. Place the mulch into a large stainless steel pot and cover with distilled water. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer for eight hours, adding water as needed. Strain through a cheesecloth and use within one week. By adding nine ounces of vodka or grain alcohol to 23 ounces of tonic, you can store your extract long term in a room temperature cabinet. This recipe is for external use only.
10 Witch Hazel Uses
As an astringent, there are many external uses for witch hazel including makeup removal, cleansing oily skin, treating acne and shrinking your pores. Witch hazel contains procyanadins, resin and flavonoids, which adds soothing to the anti-inflammatory properties.
- Witch hazel can be used in conjunction with your home remedies for bug bites. As an anti-itch therapy, a witch hazel base used with dried herbs or essential oils, like lavender or sage, is a must for camping, days at the beach and homesteading around the house. Witch hazel can also reduce the itch from chickenpox and poison ivy.
- Working with herbal sleep remedies, witch hazel can reduce bags under the eyes and soothe puffy eyes. Dab a cotton ball around the eyes for situations that have led to fatigue, crying, allergies or other irritants. The skin will tighten and the bags will be gone.
- Massaging into the scalp, followed by your normal shampoo and conditioner routine can reduce dandruff. Spray on before you get into the shower and then rinse when you are ready to get out. In addition to helping your scalp, witch hazel will de-frizz your hair.
- Witch hazel uses include being a deodorant. Aluminum-free witch hazel deodorant is available for purchase, but as homesteaders you can make your own. One simple option is to use witch hazel straight up with a few drops of an essential oil. Another recipe includes placing a half a cup of witch hazel, a quarter cup of aloe vera gel or juice and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda into a spray bottle. You can also add a dozen drops of your favorite essential oil.
- For stretch marks associated with pregnancy, spray the area with witch hazel extract once a day for a few months. For Varicose veins soak cloths in witch hazel and wrap around the leg to create a cool compress. Some say that it reduces the appearance of the veins, while others say it reduces the discomfort.
- While using a new razor, shaving only in the direction of the hair growth and wetting the area are all ways to reduce razor burn. Those with sensitive skin are more susceptible to razor burn. Razor burn happens when skin is displaced and the hair cavity is twisted and pulled by the rubbing action of the blade. Applying after a shave, as advertised by my bottle that I used for my bite, can reduce inflammation and possibly prevent razor burn.
- Sunburn is a form of inflammation. Adding soaked washcloths of witch hazel can prevent peeling and speed up the healing.
- Mixing witch hazel with toothpaste can remove tough stains on clothes and carpets. For removing stains on skin, skip the toothpaste. A half a cup of witch hazel mixed with a gallon of warm water creates a tile, vinyl, or linoleum floor cleaner.
- Substituting rubbing alcohol with witch hazel, you can make your own environmentally friendly air freshener. I can’t breathe just thinking of those artificial plug-ins! Mix a half a cup of witch hazel with a cup of water and several drops of essential oils and spray away.
- Mixing witch hazel with baking soda and lemon juice will create a tough on scum, mildew and stain cleaner for your bathroom. By putting the mixture into a spray bottle you have a cleaner for glass windows, mirrors and chrome surfaces. One part water, one part witch hazel and a drop of soap will clean your eyeglasses.
Witch hazel uses vary from being a specimen plant in the yard to a household helper, capable of cleaning tiles to easing a sting. No wonder this tree is bewitching. What are your favorite witch hazel uses?