What Is Witch Hazel?

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

witch hazel branch

Hamamelis virginiana, better known as witch hazel, is a tall shrub native to the United States and Canada. It has a long history of use by the Native Americans as a traditional phytotherapy for hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and other circulatory system problems. Subsequent research has shown that the benefits of this special plant are the result of compounds and antioxidants contained within its leaves and bark. [1]

How Does Witch Hazel Work?

You may have seen witch hazel listed as an ingredient for facial cleansers and skin toning products. This is because witch hazel contains tannins, which are astringents. An astringent can dry and tighten tissue, this may help with acne and oily skin.

Also, because witch hazel contains antioxidants, it can help battle aging. Stressors like pollution and unhealthy food can produce free radicals, which are pollutants themselves that cause aging and wreak havoc within the body. Antioxidants patrol through the body to sniff out and neutralize harmful free radicals.

However, more than just an acne and aging remedy, the toning action and antioxidant capacity of witch hazel has made it beneficial in herbal medicine for circulatory system support, particularly with varicose veins and hemorrhoids. [2]

Witch Hazel and Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are the swollen and discolored veins that appear on the legs and face. Varicose veins are more than unsightly, they’re indicative that the veins aren’t functioning properly. Blood veins contain valves that help blood to flow in a one-way direction. If the valves stop working, blood can leak and pool, this causes varicose veins. The tannin content and astringent action of witch hazel can help to tighten and tone varicose veins.

Witch Hazel and Hemorrhoids

Witch hazel can also be used to soothe sore, swollen hemorrhoids. In fact, many over the counter hemorrhoid lotions and pads contain witch hazel specifically to reduce the bleeding, itching, and discomfort that accompany hemorrhoids. When combined with other circulatory system support botanicals like horse chestnut, witch hazel can be even more effective. [3]

Using Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is generally considered safe for topical and oral use. Some people with very sensitive skin may experience minor irritation; large oral servings may cause an upset stomach. It’s best to always follow the directions of the supplement or product you’re using. Pregnant or nursing women should always consult a trusted healthcare provider before adding an herbal therapy to their protocol.

As effective as witch hazel may be against varicose veins and hemorrhoids, you should also take inventory of your life and determine the stressors that are causing your varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Are you in the physical shape you should be in? Are your hemorrhoids a result of constipation? Your diet and lifestyle need to be in check or you will experience health problems, including hemorrhoids. Eating fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, and performing a colon cleanse may relieve aggravating factors.

References (3)
  1. Reuter J, Wölfle U, Korting HC, Schempp C. Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2010 Nov;8(11):866-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2010.07472.x.
  2. Periera da Silva A, Rocha R, Silva CM, Mira L, Duarte MF, Florêncio MH. Antioxidants in medicinal plant extracts. A research study of the antioxidant capacity of Crataegus, Hamamelisand Hydrastis. Phytother Res. 2000 Dec;14(8):612-6.
  3. Kathy Abascal, B.S., J.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) and Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.). Botanical Treatments for Hemorrhoids. ALTERNATIVE & COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES—DECEMBER 2005.

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