An herb entry from the Ancient Herbs and Modern Herbs book by James K. Sayre, Copyright, 2001. All rights reserved.
Witch Hazel - Hamamelis virginiana - family: Hamamelidacea (Witch-hazel Family).
This is a deciduous shrub or low tree that grows to about twenty five feet high. It has wavy-edged oval-to-round-shaped dark green leaves. In the autumn and early winter, when its leaves are falling, it produces fragrant bright yellow thread-like flowers. The flowers are followed by woody capsules which contain shiny black seeds. When these woody capsules mature, they burst open and expel the seeds. Its bark, twigs and leaves have been used as a traditional Native American and American folk remedy for asthma, coughs, diarrhea, dysentery, canker sores and hemorrhoids. A traditional American hand lotion was made from the bark, twigs and leaves and was called witch hazel. Modern uses as an external astringent for eczema, nose bleeds, varicose veins and other skin irritations. The leaves have been approved by the German Commission E as a remedy for sore throats. The leaves and roots have been approved by the German Commission E as an external remedy for burns, hemorrhoids, skin inflammations and wounds. It is an ingredient in some commercially-made skin lotions. Note: toxic if taken internally. Traditional American folk use of Y-shaped forked branches of Witch Hazel used as divining rods to locate underground water sources. The users of these divining rods in the search for water sources were called dowsers or water witches. This folk use of branches of Witch Hazel has never been shown to be based upon any scientific concept, but the use of divining rods has persisted in rural parts of the United States until recent times. Of course, in many parts of eastern and central United States, the water table level is often quite close to the surface, so it is hard to not locate underground water sources. Actually, divining rods have been used for thousands of years. They were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, among others, to locate underground water supplies and mineral ores. Listed in the United States Pharmacopoeias from 1880 to 1910. Native to eastern and central North America. Cultivated as an ornamental in North America.
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Web page last updated on 25 May 2003.