Humans have been using plants, herbs, and naturally occurring substances as medicines for ages. Sure, we’ve discovered and invented some many medications exist that work better for specific issues, but you still reach for that aloe vera when you have a sunburn, right? Witch hazel has kind of a spooky name, but it’s just a compound made from the witch hazel shrub, or hamamelis virginiana for all you Ovia scientists.
To make witch hazel extract, the bark, leaves, and twigs from the witch hazel shrub are processed, steamed, condensed, and mixed with alcohol. At the end, you have a clear liquid substance you can find in a bottle, a pad, or a wipe at your local drugstore (it’s also usually available as a pad or wipe). Witch hazel is also a component in many other hygiene products like soaps, creams, lotions, and deodorant.
What does it do?
Witch hazel is used as a remedy for many different ailments, including hemorrhoids, skin irritation, insect bites, poison ivy rash, and cold sores. The reason it’s used to treat these things is that witch hazel is an astringent substance, which means that it tightens skin and helps to reduce inflammation. For new moms, the use of witch hazel is often recommended as a treatment for vaginal soreness, perineum issues, and hemorrhoids.
Why is it called witch hazel?
Because if you use it, you can cast spells! Diaperus, cleanus! Really, the plant is called witch hazel because the shrub it’s derived from has many forked branches that people used to use as “witching sticks” to find water. Witching sticks come from an old work for branches that bend easily, “wych,” but that’s a story for a botany app.
So witch hazel has nothing to do with witches, and it actually doesn’t have anything to do with hazel either. The shrub just has leaves that look similar to the leaves on the hazelnut tree. Kind of inspires you to discover a plant and name it something more accurate, right?
How does it work?
Witch hazel is both astringent and anti-inflammatory, so it can help soothe and heal wounds and tears. It’s safe to apply externally to the vagina, perineum, or hemorrhoids, and witch hazel pads are sold specifically for this purpose. You can also apply liquid witch hazel to a cloth and use it that way. For a little extra soothing action, you can chill the pads or cloths before using them.
Mayo Clinic. “Postpartum care: What to expect after a vaginal delivery.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. March 24, 2015. Web.
Foster, Steven. “Witch hazel hamamelis virginiana.” Imagery and information on medicinal plants and herbs. Steven Foster Group, Inc. 2013. Web.