Bewitching Health Benefits of Witch Hazel
If you are looking for an inexpensive and effective way to take care of mild to moderate and often annoying health problems, then you might consider the bewitching properties of witch hazel. Despite its name, there is nothing wicked about this plant, which has been used for centuries to relieve a variety of symptoms.
What’s behind the name witch hazel?
The story goes that the branches of the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) tree were used as dousing rods, a practice followed long ago whereby people held the branches parallel to the ground and tried to locate water, or to “witch” a well. The branches reportedly will bend toward the earth when they detect water.
The real powers of witch hazel reside in its bark as well as its leaves. Both are rich in substances called tannins, which are valued for their astringent properties, or the ability to dry and tighten tissues.
Witch hazel also contains resin, flavonoids, and gallic acid. All of these substances contribute to the plant’s anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities, which make the plant helpful in managing conditions that involve inflammation, swelling, and possible infection.
When buying witch hazel, read the label. Products for external use only often contains isopropyl alcohol. Witch hazel designed for internal use should be 100% pure. Oral intake of witch hazel may cause some side effects, such as nausea, dizziness, or rash, so you should consult your doctor before taking it internally.
Uses for witch hazel
Witch hazel can be purchased in supermarkets, drug stores, and large and small retail stores in liquid form (the most inexpensive way), dried, lotions, or treated pads. When you see how many ways you can use witch hazel, you may discover you don’t need to always use some of the items in your medicine cabinet or on your makeup table any more. For example:
- Acne: Witch hazel can help with acne because it not only helps eliminate oily skin, but also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
- Diaper rash and inflamed skin: A study of 309 children who suffered with diaper rash, minor skin injuries, or localized inflamed skin evaluated the use of either a common skin ointment (dexpanthenol; 78 children) or witch hazel (231 children). Both treatments were similarly effective and well tolerated.
- Diarrhea: Witch hazel can be taken orally to treat diarrhea, but there are two caveats: only do so with your doctor’s guidance, and only use pure dried witch hazel or a liquid form that does not contain isopropyl alcohol. The remedy consists of 1 tablespoon each of dried chamomile and mint along with 1.5 teaspoons each of dried witch hazel and thyme. Steep this mixture in 24 ounces of hot water. Sip 8 ounces of the tea throughout the day. In a pinch, you can make a simple tea using one teaspoon of witch hazel mixed in 8 ounces of boiling water, simmered for 5 minutes. Sip throughout the day.
- Hemorrhoids: Found in several over-the-counter hemorrhoid preparations. However, you can bypass the pricey pads containing witch hazel and buy the liquid. Just use cotton balls or small cotton facial pads to apply the witch hazel. If treating internal hemorrhoids, do not use witch hazel/isopropyl alcohol preparation, which is the type usually available in stores. In such cases, you will want to choose a witch hazel product designed for internal use.
- Minor cuts, bruises, and scrapes: Dab witch hazel on minor skin lesions to help stop the bleeding and to disinfect. Do not apply to badly broken skin, however.
- Nosebleeds: Witch hazel can help stop minor bleeding, like nosebleeds. An old remedy that may help involves mixing 2 tablespoons of witch hazel and 5 to 6 drops of cypress essential oil. Moisten a cotton ball with the mixture and gently insert it into the bleeding nostril. Sit up straight and tilt your head slightly forward while also lightly squeezing your nose.
- Oily skin: Using cotton balls or pads, apply witch hazel to your skin to eliminate excess oil and tighten pores.
- Poison ivy: Dab on witch hazel with a cotton ball as you would calamine lotion to help relieve the itch and dry out the rash.
- Sunburn: Apply witch hazel to sunburned skin to soothe and reduce inflammation. According to a recent German study, witch hazel also may help protect the skin from damage associated with ultraviolet rays.
- Swimmer’s ear: If you have swimmer’s ear and experience puse and moisture in the outer ear canal, a combination of witch hazel, goldenseal, and calendula tea applied to the outer ear with a cotton swab can help dry up the secretions and fight infection.
Do it yourself witch hazel
If you want to try making witch hazel on your own, cut witch hazel branches in late fall or winter and remove the bark. Chop the branches into small pieces and place in a food processor with sufficient vodka to cover the bark.
Process the witch hazel until the pieces are as small as possible. Pour the mixture into a glass jar with a lid. Shake the jar vigorously every day for five to six weeks, then strain. You can use the resulting witch hazel or combine 1 ounce of the witch hazel with ½ ounce aloe vera gel to make a face lotion.
Consider stocking a bottle of witch hazel in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit. For many common ailments and symptoms, the bewitching abilities of witch hazel may be all the help you need.
Beikert FC et al. Antiinflammatory potential of seven plant extracts in the ultraviolet erythema test. A randomized, placebo-controlled study. Hautarzt 2013 Jan; 64(1): 40-46
Reuter J et al. Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications." Journal of the German Society of Dermatology 2010 Nov; 8(11):866-73
Wolff HH, Kieser M. "Hamamelis in children with skin disorders and skin injuries: results of an observational study." European Journal of Pediatrics 2007 Sep; 166(9):943-48
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