There are four species of witch-hazels in North America, one in Japan, and one in China. Witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs that grow between 10 and 25 feet in height, though sometimes up to 40 feet. The leaves alternate between oval and broad, with smooth or wavy edges. The genus name, Hamamelis, means “together with fruit”, which refers to the flowers blooming at the same time as the fruit matures.
The flowers have long, spidery petals ranging in color from pale to dark yellow, orange, red, and purple; several varieties are two-toned. The fruit consists of a two-part capsule, each containing a single glossy, black seed. The capsule splits explosively at maturity (about 8 months after flowering), ejecting the seeds with force to send the seeds 30 feet away, giving rise to one of its alternative names, Snapping Hazel.
Botanical Name: Hamamelis
Common/Folk Names: Snapping Hazelnut (Snapping Hazel), Southern Witch-hazel, Spotted Adler, Striped Adler, Tobacco-wood, Winterbloom, and Witch-hazel (Witch Hazel)
Life Cycle: perennial
Habitat: rich woods and along streams; native to in eastern North America, Japan, and China
Blooms: autumn and winter, after it loses its leaves
Smell: leaves are odorless; bark has a slight, mild odor; flowers have a strong spicy-sweet scent
Taste: leaves have astringent, bitter, aromatic taste; bark slight taste; seeds taste like pistachios
- The leaves, bark, and twigs of witch-hazel are high in tannins.
- Witch hazel the astringent anti-inflammatory compound is made from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch-hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana). It’s a component of many commercial healthcare products.
- The witch part of witch-hazel comes from the Middle English wiche or wyche (from the Old English wice), meaning “pliant” or “bendable”.
- Twigs were used as dowsers to find water.
- “Witch hazel” was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra.
- Native Americans used it for skin problems (much like it’s used today).
- The Iroquois Indians made a tea-like beverage from the dried leaves that they sweetened with maple syrup. The unsweetened version was used as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery.
- It’s used as a poultice on sores, bruises, and swelling.
- It’s also used as a remedy for psoriasis, eczema, ingrown nails, prevention of face sweating, cracked or blistered skin, sunburns, insect bites, poison ivy as well as a treatment for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
- Burning witch-hazel banishes unwanted emotions and removes hexes.
- Spells and rituals use witch-hazel for balance (I assume balancing the spell not the spell caster), protection, inspiration, banishing, and love divination.
In the Language of Flowers, it means: a spell is on me
This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.
Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine: Old World and New World Traditions by Gabrielle Hatfield
flower images from WikiCommons 1: SB_Johnny, 2: Kurt Stüber, 3: Neptuul
leaves and seed image from WikiCommons: Hans Hillewaert
series logo image by openclipart.org, awesome colorization by me!