Witch Hazel and Blackberry Medicinal Uses

In this seasonal guide to medicinal herbs, learn how to find, harvest, and use witch hazel and blackberry—both natural astringents.

| August/September 1992

This seasonal guide to medicinal herbs discusses witch hazel and blackberry medicinal uses. Both plants have astringent properties.  I have always used witch hazel as a simple astringent for cuts and scratches. I also offer it to teenagers (and others) who have mild acne. To cleanse, all you have to do is apply a bit of witch hazel wash on a cotton ball and sweep it around your face. It should leave a pleasant tingling sensation. Do this a few times a day, and you should see your face clear up. Applying the wash to your face also makes for a fast, easy refresher on August's hot and sticky days. Blackberry, on the other hand, is primarily used internally, often as a gargle for throats and as a tea to treat mild diarrhea.

Witch Hazel Plant Description

Witch hazel is a small tree or shrub, which favors damp woods and may be found along some roadsides that border forest areas. It is unique because its yellow blossoms appear during the fall—just as the leaves are being shed. It can frequently be found with its bare branches decorated by spidery yellow blossoms. The flower is composed of four long, thin, scraggly-appearing petals that sprout from a four-lobed yellow calyx. Blossoms are one inch wide and may be found along bare twigs in autumn and into winter.

Witch hazel leaves are dark green on top and paler underneath. They are egg-shaped or oval, with wavy, toothed edges and distinct, straight, vein patterns. The younger leaves may be somewhat downy. A distinctive feature of the leaf is its uneven base, with one side shorter than the other. The leaves, which are up to five inches long (and about half as wide), usually turn yellow during the fall.

Witch hazel fruit is a hard, roundish capsule that contains shiny black seeds. The capsule splits when mature, and the sides fold back into four, sharply curved points. Seeds are flung through the air with an audible popping sound. Empty seed capsules may be found on the branches into winter, along with the withered remains of the yellow blossoms.

Witch Hazel Medicinal Uses

Witch hazel leaves, twigs, and bark are used for their astringent, soothing, and hemostatic (the control of minor bleeding) properties, attributes which make it useful for treating minor wounds, scratches, and insect bites. First, it helps reduce inflammation and tone injured tissue, speeding up the healing process. A simple washing can reduce or control a mild poison ivy reaction, and can also offer some relief for the pain and inflammation of sunburns. Witch hazel can be used additionally as a poultice over the closed lids to relieve tired, irritated eyes, and to reduce various symptoms which are brought on by eyestrain.

A quick wash of witch hazel has also been used for centuries as an external application for cosmetic purposes. Its astringency is wonderful for toning the skin. It will fight pimples and blackheads by cleansing and closing pores. It also acts as an antiseptic, helping to prevent infection of skin eruptions. Witch hazel is an old-time external application for varicose vein flare-ups, and as a salve, it can reduce the symptoms of hemorrhoids. In this case, its hemostatic action helps lessen bleeding and its astringency works to tighten tissues.

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