Despite its name, there's nothing “witchy” about this lovely plant. In fact, just the opposite—it has numerous health benefits, and is great for soothing.
One of the most popular uses for witch hazel is to help tone the look of skin and minimize the appearance of pores. Those who struggle with oily skin love that it can clean up the skin without the harsh feel of chemical toners. Witch hazel provides more benefits than just shrinking the look of pores, however.
A Little Bit About the Ingredient Itself
Native to North America, witch hazel is a shrub that grows to between 10–26 feet tall. Botanically named Hamamelis virginiana, it has oval leaves about 1-6 inches long, and produces flowers in the fall. Each flower has four slender petals less than an inch long, with colors varying from dark yellow to orange to red.
The name “witch” comes from the Middle English “wiche,” from the Old English “wice,” meaning “pliant,” “bendable,” or “flexible.” This was likely to describe the branches. The Mohegan natives were also believed to show English settlers how to use Y-shaped witch hazel sticks for “dowsing,” an ancient method for finding underground water. The sticks were reported to bend toward the ground when water was detected.
The plant is popular as an ornamental addition to gardens because of its late blooming flowers, which continue to add color throughout the winter. The fruit of the flowers from the previous year matures at the same time that the bright flowers appear in the fall, and when the seeds have fully ripened, the pods crack open explosively, ejecting the seeds into the surrounding area. That's why the plant is also called the “snapping hazel.”
The leaves, bark, and twigs of the plant have been used over the centuries to make medicine. Witch hazel water, or witch hazel extract, is distilled from dried leaves, bark, and partially dormant twigs.
Internal Health Benefits of Witch Hazel
Witch hazel has been used by Native Americans to treat dysentery, colds, and coughs. Witch hazel tea is reputed to be good for diarrhea and abdominal cramps, as well as colitis. A throat gargle including witch hazel is said to relieve sore throat pain and laryngitis.
Benefits to the Skin
One of the most popular uses for witch hazel in skin care is for oily skin. It has the ability to balance natural oils, which is why you'll find it in many cleansers, oily skin formulations, and aftershaves. The nice thing about it is that it's not over-drying, so even those with sensitive or mature skin who are dealing with oily skin and clogged pores can use it.
The extract has high levels of tannins, which also offer antioxidant protection. Tannins are organic plant compounds also found in tea and wine and are reputed to have all sorts of health benefits.
The tannins, flavonoids and resin in witch hazel have the ability to tighten the look of puffy eyes.
Because it's such a great ingredient for minimizing the look of your pores, and cleaning off excess oil—and because it's so non-irritating—I use witch hazel in my Citrus Mint Facial Cleanser. Use this first thing in the morning and your skin will feel refreshed and renewed without that stinging, dried-up feeling you can get with other cleansers. This is also the perfect cleanser for those with sensitive skin—use it in the bath or shower as needed and enjoy smoother, softer, less-reactive skin.
How do you use witch hazel? Please share any tips you may have.
* * *
“Witch Hazel Hamamelis Virginiana,” Steven Foster Group, Inc., http://www.stevenfoster.com/education/monograph/witchhazel.html.
“What is Witch Hazel?” Homeremediesweb.com, http://www.homeremediesweb.com/witch-hazel-health-benefits.php.