Witch Hazel (2)
Witch Hazel in flower, late autumn

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

Family: Hamamelidaceae, the Witch Hazel Family

Description: Native deciduous shrub up to 5m tall. Spidery, yellow flowers bloom in the fall. Leaves toothed with asymmetric bases.

Abundance: Occasional on Mt. Desert Island

Habitat: Dry, rocky woods, stream banks

Plant Parts Used: Bark, leaves, wood

Medicine: Astringent, internal bleeding, menstrual cycles, eyewash, poison ivy wash

Other: Bows, makeup remover

Witch hazel is sold in its distilled liquid form in most drug stores and grocery stores. This plant is a common ingredient in facial toners and aftershaves due to its astringent qualities. Ray said that witch hazel’s astringency is also good for internal bleeding and excessive menstrual cycles. Witch hazel’s astringency is not only released in its distilled and bottled form; Ray told me that a poultice of the leaves and bark can be applied externally to treat skin infections and rashes, whether they are open or closed wounds. Deb said witch hazel’s astringency helps tighten and tone. She said that a wash, salve, or suppository can help hemorrhoids and varicose veins. She said that witch hazel can be included in a sitz bath for treating post-partum tearing, especially helpful if combined with plants such as calendula, yarrow, comfrey, rosemary, and lavender. John described a tea of the bark being useful as a wash for poison ivy rash, an eyewash, or as a makeup remover. The Cherokee also used a similar wash for treating scratches and sores. John and Ray also commended witch hazel’s use for making strong bows.

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
  • Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
  • Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.