Today, witch hazel is usually associated with body and skin care products, especially for babies, but very few people know the very interesting story about this medicinal plant. Since we often look for it when we need to sort out irritations, inflammation and skin infections, it is not bad to learn a little more about this unusual tree that literally shoots its seeds at us.
When the first settlers from Europe, the Puritans, set foot in North America, they brought with them zealous religious beliefs, such as that work is pleasing to God and that hard work is a kind of prayer; they diligently set about establishing new settlements in untouched nature. Alongside administrators of the colonies and representatives of the church, they brought with them convicts who were faced with the most difficult jobs and the most cruel treatment. It was not easy to tame the wilderness of which little was known. New rules applied in the New World.
Anyone who refused to obey strict rules was severely punished: the death penalty was frequent and carried out in public, to serve as an example and reminder. With too little science and too much faith in the supernatural, religion was abused to impose obedience, and God’s commandments would often be adapted to the needs of those in power. At the end of the 17th century, a real mass hysteria based on religious extremism flared up in Massachusetts – which is nowadays considered one of the most notorious episodes in the history of the United States. It was the notorious persecution of witches from Salem, which took place in 1692 and 1693 when more than 200 people, mostly women, were accused of witchcraft; 30 of them were found guilty and 19 were sentenced to death by hanging – 14 women and five men. The Puritans believed that women were especially susceptible to curses and “devilish deeds” and not much was needed for someone to be singled out and subjected to horrible interrogation and torture to confess their “sins.” Every woman who deviated from Puritan norms was under scrutiny, especially the unmarried and childless ones. Of course, neighbourly disputes were often resolved by one party reporting imaginary devilish signs or spells cast.
Imagine how the people living under such psychosis and with such fears reacted when they passed by an unusual bush tree that suddenly started shooting its seeds at them, even at a seven metre distance! When this happened in a dense forest, an explosion-like sound would be heard, followed by strange sounds as the seeds hit the surrounding vegetation. So it is not surprising that this strange example of botany was then named witch hazel. However, this apparent “witchcraft” was completely harmless: as the fruit ripens, its two-part capsule splits and its glossy black seed is ejected with a bang.
However, as the settlers slowly became familiar with the surrounding vegetation, and as they came into contact with the natives, they realised that this plant is god given. This was later confirmed by science, which gave it a much more tame name – hamamelis, which means “together with fruit”, describing the unusual property of this species to bloom while the branches still have last year’s fruit on them.
TRADITIONAL AND MODERN USE
The Indians have always used witch hazel: they made an infusion from its leaves to treat colds, sore throats and chest pains. They used the leaves and the inner side of the bark to make a tonic to treat rashes, itching, burns from poisonous plants, heavy menstrual bleeding, wounds, haemorrhoids, bruises, muscle pain…
Clinical studies have proven that witch hazel extract has the same anti-inflammatory properties as corticosteroid creams, but unlike them, it has no side effects. Moreover, it is completely safe for babies, even new-borns, and can be used to treat injuries and skin disorders. That is why it is an excellent choice for atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and is a common ingredient in preparations for problematic and combination skin, especially skin prone to acne. Witch hazel hydrolate is a powerful antioxidant, it has an astringent effect – it tightens the skin, hence it is very effective for enlarged pores. Its action is antibacterial and regenerative, it is ideal for irritated skin – soon after application it will stimulate skin regeneration, reduce redness, itching, rashes and the signs of ageing. One study has demonstrated a strong antimicrobial and antifungal effect of witch hazel on staphylococci, E. coli and candida, which is very useful in atopic and intertrigo dermatitis. In addition to all these effects, witch hazel is also useful for treating insect bites, because it relieves swelling and itching; tea or tincture of this plant, which can be purchased in health food stores, can also help.
WITCH HAZEL HELPS WITH THE MOST SEVERE SKIN DISORDERS
Witch hazel helps with the most severe skin disorders. In psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease, this plant shows its anti-inflammatory effect – it alleviates unpleasant irritations and itching and encourages regeneration of new skin under the thickened and inflamed layer. It is also very effective for burns including those caused by sun exposure, it reduces redness of the skin and prevents its peeling. Witch hazel is a natural moisturiser – it improves the hydration of the outer layer of the skin and keeps it soft and elastic. Probably the most interesting effect of witch hazel is astringent, thanks to a high level of tannins in its leaves. Thanks to them, proteins in the skin form a protective layer that stops bleeding and helps healing. This effect is especially visible in the case of eczema and haemorrhoids. In this latter problem, the effect of witch hazel on the health of blood vessels is also pronounced, because it helps with better blood circulation and is therefore a salvation for varicose veins.
The medicinal nature and action of witch hazel can be seen from the outside: its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties also protect fibroblast cells in the connective tissue that produce collagen and elastin; in addition to playing a major role in wound healing, they also contribute to elasticity, wrinkle elimination and healthy skin appearance.
That witch hazel is anything but a tree of witchcraft is confirmed by its contribution to beauty – using it regularly will remove pimples, blackheads and acne from the face, the skin will stop secreting excess sebum, pores will shrink and redness, dark circles around the eyes and wrinkles will disappear. It is especially useful for oily skin and is also valuable for hair care. Thanks to all its beneficial properties, witch hazel is an ingredient used in Devi natural cosmetics: Devi skin regeneration balm. In synergy with other brilliant and completely natural butters and oils, witch hazel in this top quality balm will help with serious and persistent skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as those that impair the look of our face: acne, redness, enlarged pores, wrinkles, depigmentation, burns… This is not witchcraft but real and beautiful magic of nature!
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