Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is one of my favorite local shrubs. It’s hard to decide whether I like it most for its unique leaves, or its spectacular flowers. The yellow flowers bloom from September through November, most startlingly after the leaves have dropped in the fall. Yellow explosions of floral fireworks set off against the bare, dark grey of the smooth bark. It’s a sight to behold on the edge of the woods here in Ohio!
Witch hazel is one of the plants that we learned about from the Native Americans. They used a distillate of the plant for wounds and tumors among other things. Both the bark and the leaves are highly astringent, though the bark is most often used. It is harvested and dried in the early spring or late fall. It is known to be helpful externally for bruising, sores and swellings. It is just the thing in a liniment for varicose veins or hemorrhoids. When I gave birth at home I made myself a tincture of witch hazel to take internally in the case of heavy bleeding.
You can find witch hazel, a bottled liquid, for use in all types of astringent products in any drugstore. The negative is that you will have to accept all the adulterants that come with it. If you make it yourself you’ll always know exactly what is in your own supply.
How to Make Witch Hazel Tonic
- ½ pound witch hazel bark (you can purchase witch hazel bark here)
- distilled water to cover 1-2 inches above bark
- vodka or pure grain alcohol
Add the first two ingredients to a stockpot on the stove. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and keep the stock pot covered until your tea is completely cooled. Strain and add half the total volume of tea in vodka or pure grain alcohol. (If you have 18 ounces of tea, add 9 ounces of alcohol.) If you prefer to leave out the alcohol to minimize any drying on very sensitive skin that is fine, but you will need to store your tonic in the refrigerator for up to a week. Otherwise, this tonic has a shelf life of 1-2 years. Store it in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
Using Your Witch Hazel Tonic
Once you’ve got your own supply of witch hazel you can use it as an ingredient in other products. Astringents are good at tightening pores and this can be applied to any kind of leaky or loose tissue condition. At our farm I use witch hazel tonic as the base for our facial astringents. I love to teach my community how to make these with fresh, local ingredients or a simple combination of essential oils. These astringents act to close the pores in our skin after a gentle wash and prevent dirt and grime from building up.
- 2 Tbsp Witch Hazel Tonic (from recipe above)
- distilled water
- 8-10 drops essential oil (DIY Natural recommends these 100% pure essential oils)
Pour the witch hazel into a small spritzer bottle and fill the rest of the way with distilled water. Add an essential oil or combination of essential oils. Store this spritzer in a cool dark place, or the refrigerator if you’d like. One of my favorite ways to relax before bed on a hot summer night is a lavender face astringent after washing my face.
Don’t want to make your own witch hazel? DIY Natural recommends this brand that only contains witch hazel extract and grain alcohol.