Witch hazel: A Bit of Botany
a little bit of botanical information on witch hazel

Hamamelis virginiana is a small, deciduous tree of the Hamamelidaceae family.

Commonly called witch hazel, this tree reaches heights of 20 feet (6 m). The tree has one root which sprouts several crooked branching trunks. Each trunk is 4 to 6 inches in diameter, 10 to 12 feet in height and have smooth grey bark. The bark that is sold is usually done in quilled pieces; approximately 1/16 inch thick and 2 to 8 inches long; are silvery grey, scaly cork; longitudinally striated; fracture fibrous and laminated; taste and odor slight. The twigs are flexible and rough their external color being yellowish-brown to purple; their interior wood color being green-white, pith small.

The tree's leaves are 3 to 5 inches in length and about 3 inches wide. The oval or obovate leaves grow on short petioles, alternate, acuminate, obliquely subcordate at the base. The leaves' margin crenate and dentate. Its texture scabrous, and features raised spots underneath; it is pinnately veined and has stellate (radiating star-like pattern) hairs. In autumn, he leaves drop off, at which time yellow flowers appear in clusters from the joints, somewhere during very late September and in October. The leaves have no scent (inodorous), but have an astringent and bitter aromatic taste.

These flowers are followed by black nuts which contain edible, oily, white seeds. In Britain, the nut does not bear seeds. They are produced abundantly however in America, but often do not ripen till the following summer.

common names & nomenclature
The name Hamamelis was adopted from a Greek word that indicated its similarity in appearance to an apple-tree. When ripe, the seeds are ejected violently, hence the common name snapping hazelnut.

Also known as:
common witch hazel, american witch hazel, spotted alder, winterbloom, snapping hazelnut

Witch Hazel, the woody, deciduous North American shrub
Witch hazel: Where in the World
habitat and range for witch hazel

Hamamelis virginiana is native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to Minnesota, and south to central Florida to eastern Texas.

Witch hazel: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting witch hazel

Witch hazel grows on the edges of dry or moist woods and on the rocky banks of streams in sun to part sun.

Prefers a rich well-drained sandy loam soil. Dislikes dry limy soils but will succeed in a calcareous soil if it is moist.

Seed can be very slow to germinate. It is best to harvest the seed 'green' (as soon as it is mature but before it has dried on the plant) around the end of August and sow it immediately in a cold frame. It may still take 18 months to germinate but will normally be quicker than stored seed Transplant out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Overwinter them in a greenhouse for their first winter and plant out in late spring.

Branches and twigs are harvested for the bark in the spring. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use.

Store dried witch hazel bark and dried witch hazel leaf in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Witch hazel: The Rest of the Story
witch hazel history, folklore, literature & more

witch hazel healing
Witch hazel has been used for centuries. Many people have dismissed it for more modern solutions, but witch hazel shouldn’t be forgotten. Witch hazel is actually a shrub which oil is extracted from the bark and the essential oils are then combined with alcohol.

Witch hazel can be used to remove makeup and oil from the skin. It’s also good to use as an aftershave.

You can purchase witch hazel lotions over the counter at most pharmacies. You’ll find it near the Epsom salts and alcohol. This formulation shouldn’t be taken internally because it’s combined with isopropyl alcohol which is toxic if taken internally.

For making herbal teas and mouthwash, you’ll want to buy the dried witch hazel leaves.