What Is Witch Hazel?

Health, Home & Family
on May 1, 2012

You’ve seen it before, but you might not have known what it was. Your grandmother may have had it — a conspicuous-looking, vintage, amber bottle of something unusual in her cabinet full of remedies — but witch hazel is no snake oil. Witch hazel has been around for ages and is used for a variety of purposes, but what (or who) exactly is witch hazel? Find out for yourself with these five great uses for the time-tested tincture.

What is witch hazel? Simply put, witch hazel is a late-season flowering plant. It grows naturally in North America, Japan and China. According to Flora of North America, witch hazel grows in the form of a shrub or small tree. This plant can range from 9 feet in height.

Uses for witch hazel. Witch hazel is the Greek name for the hamamelis plant. Witch hazel extract has been used for its soothing, cleansing and healing properties since the time of Hippocrates. Always talk with your doctor before trying any new medical treatment. An herbalist in the local health food store can help you select the right form of witch hazel for your needs. The top five uses for witch hazel are:

  1. An acne fighter — Due to the high levels of tannins found in witch hazel extract, witch hazel is an excellent astringent, according to Discovery Health. Use of this astringent will get the acne-causing dirt and oil off your skin.
  1. Swollen tired eye relief — A soft cloth that is moistened with witch hazel is very helpful in reducing the inflammation around the eye area. Do not get the product in your eye, but rather let the cloth rest on your closed eyes for best results.
  1. Soothe skin and reduce swelling — The same astringent properties that makes for healthy, glowing skin also helps reduce inflammation, along with procyanadins, resin and flavonoids. A cloth soaked in witch hazel can soothe varicose veins, hemorrhoids, diaper rash and sore, swollen hands.
  1. As a treatment for laryngitis — Gargling with fresh witch hazel tea (without the alcohol in the bottled witch hazel) can reduce the swelling and pain of a sore throat.
  1. Insect bite treatment — An insect bite can become swollen and painful quickly. Using a cool cloth or cotton swab soaked with witch hazel on the affected area will help reduce the inflammation and take the sting out of that bite.