Witch hazel (astringent)
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
Witch hazel is mainly used externally on sores, bruises, and swelling.[medical citation needed] As a hydrosol, it is used in skin care as an astringent and anti-oxidant. 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. However, clinical studies supporting its effectiveness for these skin conditions are generally lacking.
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.
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. Early Puritan settlers in New England adopted this remedy from the natives, and its use became widely established in the United States.
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. "Hawes Extract" was first produced and sold in Essex, Connecticut, in 1846, by druggist and chemist Alvan Whittemore.
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. 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.
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