Witch hazel (astringent)

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Witch hazel is an astringent anti-inflammatory compound, produced from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch-hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana). It is a component of many commercial healthcare products.

Composition and use[edit]

The main constituents of the witch hazel extract include calcium oxalate, gallotannins, safrole, as well as chemicals found in the essential oil (carvacrol, eugenol).[1]

Witch hazel is mainly used externally on hemorrhoids, minor bleeding, and skin irritation.[2] As a hydrosol, it is used in skin care as an astringent and anti-oxidant.[3] It is often used as a natural remedy for psoriasis and eczema; in aftershave and in-grown nail applications and to prevent facial sweating and cracked/blistered skin, and for treating insect bites, poison ivy, and hemorrhoids.[4] However, clinical studies supporting its effectiveness for these skin conditions are generally lacking.[5]

It is recommended to women to reduce swelling and soothe wounds resulting from childbirth.[6]

Evidence is lacking for further reported uses including gastrointestinal maladies (diarrhea, coughing up/vomiting blood), general infections such as colds and the specific infection tuberculosis, as well as eye inflammation, bruising, and varicose veins.[7]


Native Americans used extract of witch-hazel extensively for medicinal purposes. Many peoples produced witch hazel extract by boiling the stems of the shrub and producing a decoction, which was used to treat swellings, inflammations, and tumors.[8] Early Puritan settlers in New England adopted this remedy from the natives, and its use became widely established in the United States.[4]

A missionary, Dr. Charles Hawes, learned of the preparation's therapeutic properties, and then determined through extensive study that the product of distillation (likely steam distillation) of the plant's twigs was even more efficacious.[8] "Hawes Extract" was first produced and sold in Essex, Connecticut, in 1846, by druggist and chemist Alvan Whittemore.[9]

Hawes' process was further refined by Thomas Newton Dickinson, Sr., who is credited with starting the commercial production of witch hazel extract, also in Essex, Connecticut, in 1866, and eventually establishing nine production sites in eastern Connecticut.[10] Following his death, his two sons, Thomas N., Jr., of Mystic, Connecticut, and Everett E. Dickinson of Essex, each inherited parts of the family business and continued the manufacture of witch hazel extract, operating competing "Dickinson's" businesses that were continued by their descendants.[4][11]


  1. ^ Sheila Boulajoun (2007). Natural Sources of Flavourings, Report No. 2. Belgium: Council of Europe Publishing. p. 87. ISBN 978-92-871-6156-7. 
  3. ^ Steven Foster, Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Article and Photos, Steven Foster Group], retrieved April 14, 2012
  4. ^ a b c Michael C. Bingham, Which Witch Is Witch Hazel (and Which Dickinson Makes It)?, Connecticut Business Journal, 20 October 1997. Archived August 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Witch Hazel". drugs.com. 
  6. ^ "Postpartum care: What to expect after a vaginal delivery". Labor and delivery, postpartum care. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2013-01-01. 
  7. ^ Witch Hazel Overview Information, WebMD, accessed April 14, 2012
  8. ^ a b Anthony C. Dweck, Ethnobotanical Use of Plants, Part 4: The American Continent.
  9. ^ Dickinson's 'Witch Hazel' Will No Longer Be Manufactured in Essex, Essex Events, Spring 1997.
  10. ^ The E.E. Dickinson Co. (1970?), The Birth of Witch Hazel. 16 pp.
  11. ^ About Dickinson Brands, Dickinson Brands website, accessed February 4, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Erdelmeier, C. A. J. et al. Antiviral and Antiphlogistic Activities of Hamamelis virginiana Bark. Planta Medica, 62(1996) (3):241–245
  • Foster, S. The Wiley Witch Hazel. The Herb Companion.(January 1989).
  • Korting, H. C., et al. "Comparative Efficacy of Hamamelis Distillate and Hydrocortisone. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 48(1995)(6):461–465.
  • Lloyd, J. U. and J. T. Lloyd. History of Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Extract and Distillate. Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. 24(1935) (3):220–24.
  • Tyler, V. E. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals, Binghamton, New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1994.