Many uses for witch hazel in your garden

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Witch hazel is a small tree or deciduous shrub that usually stands between 3 and 8 meters high and can sometimes reach 12 meters.  The witch hazel’s oval leaves are arranged alternately and have a wavy or smooth margin.  The leaves are 3 to 11 cm wide and 4 to 16 cm long.  The scientific name for witch hazel translates to “together with fruit,” due to the fact that its flowers, leaf buds, and fruit can all be found on the branches simultaneously, something which is rare among tree species.

Hamamelis virginiana flowers during the fall season.  Some species of witch hazel produce flowers during winter on leafless stems, hence an alternative name of the plant, “Winterbloom.”  The flowers are comprised of four strap-shaped, slender petals measuring 1 to 2 cm in length that appear in red, orange, dark yellow, and pale.  The 1 cm fruit capsule is split into two parts, each housing a single 5 mm black, glossy seed.  When maturity is reached in the autumn after flowering for eight months, the capsule splits, ejecting the seeds so forcefully that they fly as far as 10 meters.  This is the origin of another name for witch hazel: “Snapping Hazel.”

Landscaping Use

Witch hazel plants can reach heights of 12 feet, but can be kept much shorter by pruning. Its fall foliage is yellow and the flowers have a warm, spicy fragrance that bloom in late winter or early spring. It’s ideal to plant witch hazel in full-sun to partial shade areas with acidic soil amended with humus.

These plants are unique because their flowers bloom in March, which add color to normally dull yards and gardens during this time.

Witch hazel is known as a deer repellent though organic deer repellent sprays are much more effective at preventing deer damage to landscapes and gardens.

Preventing Deer Damage

For areas with a concentrated deer population, witch hazel is ideal for landscaping because of its natural resistance to deer. However, it is not a fool-proof method of deterring deer. Some deer will eat witch hazel, even though the taste isn’t appealing. As with other deer-resistant plants, a hungry deer will eat anything.

A more effective way to prevent deer from damaging your landscape or garden is by using deer repellent. These easy-to-apply sprays are available at most lawn and garden stores.

The most effective deer repellents work by targeting both the scent and taste senses, which are highly sensitive in deer. The ingredients of these dual-targeting deer repellents include a capsaicin and putrescent egg combination. The capsaicin provides an immediate irritation to the deer when tasted. The putrescent egg mimics the smell of decaying animals, which alerts the deer into thinking a predator is nearby. Once dried, the solution is not detectable by the human nose.

There is an organic deer repellent spray available. With the OMRI logo on the label, consumers know they are using a truly organic product. This spray is highly effective at keeping deer away from treated areas, and it also protects against rabbit damage. Unlike other deer repellents, this type of spray is long-lasting, requiring reapplication as little as every 3 months.

Medicinal Use

Witch hazel’s astringent properties are due to the high level of tannins in the twigs, leaves, and bark of the plant.  Astringents can harden, tighten, and dry tissues, which
is why they’re frequently used on the skin to remove oil and tighten pores.

Astringents are also useful for stopping discharges when using a styptic pencil.  The tannins found in witch hazel soothe and tighten painful varicose veins temporarily, or decrease discomfort associated with phlebitis, the inflammation of one or more veins.  Also contained in witch hazel are flavonoids, resin, and procyanadins which increase its anti-inflammatory, soothing properties. Applying a cloth soaked in witch hazel tea can help reduce swelling and relieve pain associated with bruises or hemorrhoids. 

Various witch hazel forms, such as suppositories, hemorrhoidal pads, or lotions, can be found in almost any pharmacy.  Besides topically treating veins and hemorrhoids, witch hazel lotions can also be useful on swollen, rough carpenter’s or gardener’s hands.  When taken internally, witch hazel can be used to treat a prolapsed uterus, hemorrhoids, or varicose veins, although this treatment differs from what is commonly found in pharmacies.

Those suffering from laryngitis can find relief with witch hazel as well, given its effectiveness in shrinking swollen tissue.  Gargling with cloves, myrrh, and witch hazel reduces the uncomfortable pain of a sore throat.  Using tincture or fresh tea is preferable to store-bought witch hazel, which often contains isopropyl alcohol.  For case of infected or swollen gums, rinse with myrrh and witch hazel, placing a dropper’s worth of each herb into a quarter cup of water to rinse the mouth.  When combined with a drop of both clove oil and myrrh, a teaspoon of witch hazel tea makes for an inflammation and pain relieving rub for teething gums.

For treating swimmer’s ear, use a calendula, goldenseal, and witch hazel tea applied to a cotton swab on the outer ear.  Moisture and pus typically accompany swimmer’s ear, usually in the outer canal of the ear.  Calendula and goldenseal fight infection while witch hazel dries the secretions. 

Combined with arnica, witch hazel makes for an effective topical remedy in treating traumatic sprains, bruises, and bumps by promoting a quick recovery and relieving pain.  In most store-bought witch hazel, isopropyl alcohol has been added to treat external lesions.

If you’re experiencing a stomach flu or intestinal illness that causes diarrhea, a tea composed of thyme, mint, chamomile, and witch hazel can be highly effective. 

Bleeding ulcers or gums can be treated with witch hazel, either topically on a wound or when taken internally.  Witch hazel is very important for controlling bleeding.  Medical attention is still required for serious wounds, but in the interim, witch hazel can help stop bleeding. (Jennifer Brett)

Works Cited

Jennifer Brett, N.D. Witch Hazel: Herbal Remedies. 29 March 2010

witch hazel. 20 March 2010. 29 March 2010

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