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Common Name: Witch Hazel | Scientific Name: Hamamelis Virginica

Family Name: Hamameliaceae


Sadly, in the modern age, this amazing plant has been reduced to nothing more than a hemorrhoid treatment. Oh, there is so much more to it than that. In days gone by, sore muscles, joint damage, and more were treated with it. And, I must say, it works miracles when the muscles or joints have been damaged. All athletes should know about this herb!


Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest”
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians

Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest”


I feel like I’ve got a watermelon up my butt.

Hammamelis virginianus

To finish off a particularly graceful chapter hemorrhoids make a suitable end to what has otherwise been a lot of fun. Yet another revolting condition, hemorrhoids is perhaps one of the worst gastrointestinal back fires for more than one reason. Firstly they make doing all the small things in life really difficult, like sitting down to eat dinner. Adding bile to a bitter circumstance, hemorrhoids are one of those taboo illnesses that despite the fact billboards advertise the products, indicating lots of people have them, no one will ever admit to it. If you have hemorrhoids you tend to think you are the only one and you suffer in solitude. If you have the flu at least you can complain about it!

Take it from me, lots and I mean lots, of people have hemorrhoids. Only big companies can buy national television advertising space and you will note hemorrhoid preparations are all advertised on the telly. There is big money in most forms of human misery and the throbbing backside is no exception. Indeed hemorrhoids are one of the most common forms of digestive tract backfire, no pun intended, in the industrialized world. It seems our combination of diet, lack of exercise, and stress filled lifestyles makes us sitting targets for this particular brand of nightmare. The good news is they are readily treated with herbal medicine.

Though a lot of people have hemorrhoids not many people understand them. I think at this juncture it would be helpful to do a little crash course in what the little devils are – understanding is always the key. The first part of the nasty word, heme, give us a clue as to what sort of problem we are dealing with. Heme refers to blood, as in hemophilia. Where as hemophilia is a disorder of the blood cells, hemorrhoids are a problem with the vessels that carry the blood. Heres a medical definition of a hemorrhoid, ” A vascular tumor made up of infected varices of the veins of the hemorrhoidal plexus.” Do you feel enlightened? If that wasn’t enough for you here is another definition given by a physician at the turn of the century.

“Hemorrhoids are round and painful tumors which appear in the region of the anus/ They are called external or internal according to their situation, external piles being located without and internal piles within the sphincter ani. An external hemorrhoid consists of an extravasation of blood from a ruptured vein, which forms a hard mass in the surrounding cellular tissues. Internal hemorrhoids are caused by a dilation of the hemorrhoidal arteries and veins which become varicose and form tumors. They can be caused by a poor diet, constipation, diarrhea, consistent activity, straining.” Talk to a doctor today and you will get the same story.

More simply put, a hemorrhoid is a blood vessel that has ballooned up and out of shape. Rather than operating as a pipe for blood to run through the blood vessel ends up loosing shape becomes a pool instead. This pooling of blood changes the pipe into a little grape. These little grapes are down you know where, and unfortunately that region is loaded with nerve endings. The swollen blood vessel presses on the nerve endings which send all kinds of messages to the brain which result in unpleasant sensations. Every hemorrhoid victim describes the sensation differently, none in glowing terms. As our medical description mentions, you can have them on the outside of the anus or inside.

I think it important to mention how you can tell if you have a hemorrhoid as most are too embarrassed to ask someone in the know unless it has reached a stage of being unbearable. If the hemorrhoid is external with the aid of a mirror you will be able to see it. If its internal you wont be able to see it but you will be able to feel it. Pressure is the word most used to describe what an internal hemorrhoid feels like, itchy would work as well. If you feel like you have to make a bowel movement and you know you dont, you probably have a hemorrhoid.

What causes the blood vessels to lose their shape in the first place? Strain usually. Weight lifters and women who have given birth are two examples of people who pushes a little too hard down there and the blood vessels end up getting bent out of shape, literally. People who suffer from chronic constipation are also hemorrhoid candidates, they strain on the stool a little too hard for a little too long and before they know it they have two problems. Hemorrhoids are bad enough, but when you add constipation into the equation we are talking about a bad dream.

Believe it or not, like all of our other digestive problems, hemorrhoids are also linked to stress. In fact stress scientists believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that hemorrhoids are a stress related illness. The notion being that when people are stressed out they clench their muscles, including those down in the anal area. This constant clutching of the anus results in strain and you know what the end of the story is. Little grapes that just about drive you mad. Not that I would know, I have a friend that has them and he told me all about it.

The star in this corner of the medicine cabinet is one that you may have already heard about, witch hazel. A rather sanitized version is sold in just about every drugstore around the world for the condition that no one has. Witch hazels global use is a relatively new phenomena, previous to the colonization of North America only the indigenous Americans knew about the tree. The white colonials learned of its bum healing powers and quickly shared its qualities with the rest of Europe where it gained instant popularity. Previously the Brits had used a plant aptly named,”bungwort”. Bungwort was quickly replaced with Witch Hazel due to its superior healing powers.

The plant itself is rather peculiar and no doubt its curious growing habits helped it earn its name. The witch part of the plants name comes from merry old england . The plant looks somewhat similar to the hazel tree native to England , a tree used by local witches in divining and spell making. Apparently when the English colonists arrived in America and saw the witch hazel tree one of them screamed, hey, isn’t that the hazel the witches back home use. The name stuck and we still use it today. Peculiar plants are often associated with magic and their practitioners and this is the case with this odd plant. Firstly, the tree breaks into bloom in the dead of winter, producing thread like strings of bright yellow ribbon that simply hang off the bark at irregular intervals. If that isn’t strange enough, the seeds dont just drop off like regular seeds. They come out of their dry little wrapper with a loud pop. A favorite trick of small colonial children half out of their minds with out back boredom was to bring a branch into the house and wait for the seeds to explode. As I said, a rather unusual plant.

Apart from the exploding seeds, the small tree or large shrub tends to have several spindly trunks all shooting from the same source. Its really a rather attractive tree, the bark is a lovely silver grey and the leaves a deep green. It rarely gets much larger than twenty feet high, usually averaging around twelve. Its fairly common in the United states and with a field guide it can be readily identified and put to good use for the unspeakable condition.

The native Americans were all too familiar with this woodland tree found growing from New Brunswick in Canada to Florida in the United states . They were in the habit of using it to reduce inflammations of all sorts. The life of the Native Americans was an extremely physical one and accidents do happen. Whether from a battle wound or from a slide down a mountain top they found a poultice of Witch hazel would take the pain out and speed healing. “I shall tell you what I learnt of the use of the Hammamelis from a Minister of the Church of England who officiates among the Mohawk Indians. He saw an almost total blindness occasioned by a blow cured by receiving the Warm stream of a decoction of the bark of this shrub though a funnel upon the place. This was done by direction of a Mohawk Indian after other means had for a considerable time prov’d ineffectual. I have since expeienced the benefit of it used in the same manner in an inflammation of the eye from a blow.” Colden 1744.

It was in such interactions between the colonials and the Native Americans that witch hazel went from the backwoods of America to the pharmacies around the globe. In 1785 a plantsmen named Carver had this to say about witch hazel, ” The Indians considered this tree as a valuable article in their materia medica. They applied the bark , which is sedative and discutient, to painful tumors and external inflammations.” Its not entirely clear where and when witch hazel was first used for bothersome backsides, the person that made the discovery of its effectiveness in treating this part of the anatomy probably didn’t shout his find from the town square. An unsung hero shall we say.

There is no record to my knowledge of the Native Americans using witch hazel to treat hemorrhoids, consistently they are found using it to heal any other tissue damaged by vigorous activity, like falling out of a tree or off a horse. In a way a hemorrhoid is just another damaged tissue, perhaps not damaged in the usual manner, but it responds like all the other wounds the Native Americans used it to treat.

By the 1800′s witch hazel had been fully accepted by the doctors of the day as the plant to end inflammation, wherever it occurred. As doctors worked with it they found it effective for a wide range of complaints. My favorite doctor from last century, Horton Howard, md, said this of the plant in 1879, “The bark and leaves are slightly bitter, and very astringent. The leaves are a most valuable article of medicine, as an astringent tonic and styptic. They may be employed in tea for bowel complaints, bleeding at the stomach, lungs, and all other internal hemorrhages: and in snuff for bleeding at the nose: and no doubt might be advantageously applied to wounds to stop the effusions of blood. As a styptic to check internal bleeding, the witch hazel , perhaps, is amongst the best articles known. The Indians , it is said, consider the witch hazel a valuable article of medicine, applying the bark in poultice or wash to painful tumors, and external inflammations. A poultice of the bark is said to be efficacious in removing painful inflammations of the eyes.”

An eclectic physician writing at the turn of the century called for witch hazel in the following conditions. ” soreness of muscles, muscular aching, a bruised sensation , soreness from violent muscular exertion, soreness from bruises and strains, soreness and muscular aching from cold and exposure, relaxed mucous membranes, dark blue membranes from venous stasis, veins dilated, relaxed, enlarged, and full-varicoses.” Ok, so doctor Ellingwood also agrees that when it comes to hemorrhoids, or any other damaged tissue, witch hazel is your plant. By 1900 people knew that when hemorrhoids flared up witch hazel was the medicine required.

In the 1950′s a medical writer had this to say about witch hazel, “a powerful astringent when used as distilled water of the leave or an extract of the bark for the care of the skin and against varicose veins , hemorrhoids, phlebitis, varicose ulcers and also as a hemostatic.” Witch hazels chemical activity is due at least in part to its tannin content. Specifically a tannin called hamelotanin, which is said to be constructed out of a combination of gallic acid, a sugar called hamelose, and quercetin and choline added on for good effect.

It is indeed that tannins contained in the plant that make it used in the treatment of hemorrhoids. Many plants contains tannins and their are as many types of tannins as there are days in the year. Why plants produce tannins remains a mystery. Like many of the medicinal chemicals contained in plants tannins are said to be secondary metabolites of plant life, more simply put, waste products that result from the plants life processes. Lucy Cotes, an English botanist feels that chemicals like tannins are more likely produced by the plant for survival we just dont know what they use them for. In any case, the tannins produced in this tree act on human tissue by causing it to shrink. Hemorrhoids as you now know are essentially swollen tissues and by applying witch hazel to them they shrink.

Haim Zeylstra, world renown herbalist insists that hamamelis has the ability to shrink abnormal tissue while leaving normal tissue unmolested. For this reason he recommends witch hazel in all forms of abnormal tissue growth, be it warts, nasal polyps, or the condition so close to our hearts, Hemorrhoids. The continued application of witch hazel to the affected bits will result in the shrinkage of the abnormal tissue, which is our goal. Mr.Zeylstra insists with witch hazel in the medicine cabinet there is no reason that anyone should ever reach the point of needing backside surgery. Music the ears of hemorrhoid sufferers.

Now as to using witch hazel for your own secret condition. The object is to bring the hemorrhoid into contact with the witch hazel so it can shrink it or them. Not to worry, you dont have to take your behind out to the woods and sit on a tree. The part we use is either the leaf or the bark. As there are two sorts of hemorrhoids, internal and external, we will have to different strategies for the fatal meeting. For internal buggers you need to make suppositories and insert them in the operative aperture. For external hemorrhoids you can either sit your butt down in a bowel filled with a decoction made of witch hazel or you can make a creme and apply it directly on the site.

Chronic constipation sufferers need to take care of the constipation problem if they want to get rid of their hemorrhoid sufferers. Regardless of the source of your hemorrhoids the last thing you want to do is to add any strain to an already strained part. Most herbalist recommend people with hemorrhoids go on a fiber laxative to make certain they have easy moved stools. The best fiber laxative being the products made of the seed of the Plantago psyllium. The psyllium seed as it is known to the pharmacist has the ability to swell when added to water and become a viscous mass. The slime that results is indigestible so it passes through the intestines unmolested my digestion and all the way out. Lots of other things also come out with it, end result, effortless bowel movements.

While your hemorrhoids are active the last thing you want to do is strain that part of the body anymore than it already is. If you go to the gym skip and weight lifting that requires straining. Chances are if you have a case of the piles you wont feel like weight lifting, remember, you want to put as little pressure as you can onto that part of the body.

Getting your supply:
1. Buy the bark or leaves from the health food store.
2. With the help of a field guide gather the bark or leaves from the wild.
3. Grow some yourself. The Witch hazel tree is very easily grown and if you have the need a medium sized tree somewhere in the yard run down to the garden center and buy yourself one. It quite an inexpensive tree to buy and for ten or so dollars you can have a lifetime supply of hemorrhoid creme. The tree will take full sun or partial sun, remember it is from the woods. Once you plant you tree you will have to wait until its big enough to take branches off if you are planning to use the bark. The leaves on the other hand can be picked just about as soon as you plant the tree. Dont harvest all the leaves, remember the plant uses them to make food. Witch hazels love water and the more you give them the happier they are, bear that in mind as summer gets heated up and water a little on the scarce side. The bark is harvest in the fall and the leaves in may. Both should be dried in the sun until completely dry and then stored in a brown paper bag someplace dry.

Notes from the Eclectic Physicians

1883: Scudder
Astringent, tonic, sedative, discutient, styptic, antiseptic. The bark and leaves of the witch hazel are mild yet energetic stimulants. though less frequently used than other agents, they are really useful in the various cases in which this class of medicines is indicated. the bark is the most active as an astringent. it is used with advantage in bowel complaints attended with great relaxation of the intestinal mucous exhalants in infusion or decoction. the infusion of the leaves is useful in various internal hemorrhages, as hematuria, menorrhagia, hematemeis, and hemoptysis. and likewise in diabetes and flour albus. combined with trillium latifolium and exhibited freely, it has proved very advantageous in the last named diseases. the same combination is also highly valuable in hemorrhagic discharges, and in all these affections the lycous virginicus constitutes an important addition.

Hamamelis is beneficial in hemorrhoids, particularly in the bleeding piles, with atony of the perineum. Its value in both mucous and sanguineous discharges depends partly on its tonic properties.

1895: Watkins: HAMAMELIS, SP MED
Passive hemorrhage, enfeebled venous circulation, increased mucous secretion, fullness in anal region, prolapsus ani, difficult defecation, bleeding piles. Ten to thirty drops every three hours.

Syn. – Hamamelis; Witch Hazel

P. E. – Leaves and bark

N. O. – Hamamelaceae

N. H. – United States

Properties: Soothing, astringent and tonic.

Use: Taken internally it is a positive tonic to the walls of the weins, stimulating and strengthening their muscular coats. We therefore think of it in passive hemorrhages, in venous stasis, varicose conditions of the veins, especially in the lower extremities.

In venous hemorrhoids, congestion and fullness of the ovaries and testicles, due to venous engorgement. On account of its soothing, healing and astringent qualities we think of it locally in leucorrhoea, catarrh of the uterus, burns, scalds, bruises, sore throat with relaxed mucous membrane. In lameness and soreness after labor or from muscular exertion it is of great value if applied to the abdoment hot. In soreness from violent muscular exercise, strains, bruises and exposure to cold it is of value. Also in sore throat locally where there is relaxed condition of mucous membrane and dark blue color, showing venous stasis. In inflammatory rheumatism it is of value if combined or alternated with other indicated remedies. It appears to act as a sedative.

1911: Fyfe
Fullness of mucous membranes, pallid mucous membranes, relaxation of perineal tissue, hemorrhage, when the venous circulation is enfeebled, passive hemorrhage, fullness of veins inclined to dilation, pains in the testicles and ovaries, when produced by congestion, excessive secretion of mucous, engorgement and hemorrhage of the venous system, especially of the mucous membranes and skin, ulceration of the stomach and intestines, gastro-intestinal irritability of the later stages of phthisis, abraded and inflamed mucous surfaces. locally: various forms of eczema and other cutaneous diseases, bruises and wounds, piles, aphthous sore mouth.

Hamamelis is frequently indicated in diarrhea, dysentery, leucorrhea, gleet, hematemesis, hemoptysis, and hematuria.As a local application or injection it should be diluted with from three to ten parts water.

Hamamelis virginica is astringent, tonic, sedative.

1911: lloyd
Witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana . The decoction and infusion of the bark as well as of the leaves of this shrub have been in common use from the days of the American Indian, whose use of the plant led the settlers to its employment. They also used the leaves as well as the pounded bark in the making of a poultice for topical use in inflammations. These domestic uses of the drug led to its introduction by the medical profession at an early date. A mixture of hydrastis root and hamamelis leaves was held in high repute by Professor John King, M.D. (356), as a wash and as an injection. The preparation known as distilled hamamelis, or distilled extract of hamamelis, introduced by Pond about the middle of the nineteenth century, became very popular and has an increasing demand at the present time, a substitute or imitation being introduced into the pharmacopoeia under the title “hamamelis water.”

1919: Ellingwood
Synonym – Witch-hazel.

Constituents – Tannin, volatile oil, a bitter principle.

Preparations – Extractum Hamamelis Fluidum, Fluid Extract of Hamamelis. Dose, from ten to sixty minims.

Distilled Extract of Hamamelis. Dose, from ten to sixty minims.

Specific Medicine Hamamelis. Dose, from five to sixty minims.

Specific Symptomatology – Soreness of muscles, muscular aching, a bruised sensation, soreness from violent muscular exertion, soreness from bruises and strains, soreness and muscular aching from cold and exposure, relaxed mucous membranes, dark blue membranes from venous stasia, veins dilated, relaxed, enlarged, and full – varicosis.

Therapy -Internally it is given with the above indications as a remedy for sore throat of whatever kind, with feeling of extreme soreness, and with dark-colored membranes.

It is used in tonsillitis and diphtheria, in phlegmonous ulcerations of the mouth and throat, and in acute catarrh. If there is hemorrhage from the post-nasal cavity, or from the teeth, or from spongy gums, it is a useful remedy.

It is valuable when there is excessive catarrhal discharge from dar, relazed mucous membranes, and in catarrhal or watery diarrhoea with a tendency to passive hemorrhage of dark blood.

It has conspicuous virtue in the treatment of hemorrhoids with the specific indications. The fluid extract in fifteen drop doses every two hours will quickly effect a cure in recent cases, and will greatly benefit chronic cases, its influence being greatly enhanced if combined with collinsonia. In relaxation of the mucous membranes of the rectum and in prolapse of the bowel, it is useful. In these cases the distilled extract should be applied externally while the fluid extract is given internally.

It is a good remedy in relaxation of the vaginal walls with leucorrhoea, and in catarrh of the womb, also in passive hemorrhages from these parts, especially if there be soreness or extreme tenderness. Externally the distilled extract is of first importance in soreness of the muscles, or aching of parts. In bruises, sprains and muscular lameness its application gives prompt relief. If applied hot it is particularly effectual. In the general aching, lameness, and muscular soreness, following a severe confinement – a source of extreme discomfort, often greatly retarding recovery – this agent applied hot will give immediate relief, a measure it is cruel to neglect to advise, in these cases, as it acts at once. In lame and sore breasts it may be applied, to immediately relieve the soreness, but other remedies should be given for acute inflammatory action.

Its indications would suggest it as an excellent remedy in rheumatism, being of value externally and in conjunction with other remedies.

Applied to burns and scalds it gives prompt relief. Ten grains of menthol dissolved in four ounces of the distilled extract applied to a burn will stop the pain at once and will promote the healing. It is best applied by saturating a soft cloth with which the burned surface may be covered.

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.