It’s sold over the counter at most convenience and drug stores. You likely have a bottle of it somewhere in your house. But where does witch hazel come from and what does it do?
Witch hazel is a plant with golden yellow or orange-red flowers indigenous to the American Northeast. The product we use is made from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel shrub. Contrary to myth, its name has nothing to do with witches. It derives from the Middle English wiche, which in this context means “bendable.”
Native Americans found witch hazel useful in a variety of medicinal applications, including tumors, eye inflammations and infections. The Potawatomi steamed its twigs over hot rocks in their sweat lodges to calm sore muscles. The Iroquois used it to address dysentery.
In the early 1840s Theron T. Pond (of Pond’s Cream) connected with the Oneida tribe in Central New York. He noted that their medicine man made a tea from the shrub that the tribe used to treat burns, boils, and wounds. He started bottling the tea — calling it “Gold’s Treasure.” It eventually became known as “Pond’s Extract,” a mixture of distilled witch hazel, alcohol, and water. It was then known as a cure-all for ailments from colds to frostbite.
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Today, we know that witch hazel contains powerful antioxidant and astringent properties that eliminate skin bacteria and stop cellular damage. It prevents acne and treats blemishes. It relieves cracked skin, reduces the discoloration of bruises, balances oily skin, reduces sweating, soothes hemorrhoids and aids in treating poison ivy, eczema and melanoma. Witch hazel can even stop minor bleeding and help seal small cuts as it naturally tightens skin and helps it regenerate faster. It’s no wonder this versatile natural remedy is a medicine cabinet “must have.”
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Last modified: August 13, 2019