Hamamelis virginiana - common witch-hazel

The common witch-hazel was used by Native Americans as a herbal remedy for diverse illnesses and treating wounds. It is also a popular remedy in homeopathy.

© Robert Klips

An ancient Native American remedy

Hamamelis virginiana L. is not the only species of its genus. It has two other relatives in North America, one from China and one from Japan. It was named after the former British Crown colony of Virginia, which in its time was much larger than today’s US federal state of the same name and included parts of eastern North America. In fact, the geographic territory of the plant extended from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The witch-hazel is reported to have been brought to Europe for the first time in 1736 by English botanist, Peter Collinson.

European botanists must have been intrigued by the seven-metre high shrub not only because of its unusual flowering time and coral-like flowers. Another curiosity is the manner in which the woody, hazelnut-style fruits burst so explosively once ripe, propelling the seeds with sufficient force that they can fly distances of up to four metres. The first European settlers on North American soil certainly also would not have overlooked the importance that the Native Americans attached to Virginian witch-hazel as a herbal remedy. They obtained the hamamelis extract by boiling the leafy twigs and branches, creating a versatile remedy that could be used to treat bleeding, cuts and scratches, contusions, as well as external swelling and inflammation around the eyes.

Using the bark

The fresh bark is used in homeopathy. The twigs are usually cut in winter and the bark is removed by hand. As a homeopathic single remedy, hamamelis is available in various forms: dilutions, globules, tablets, ampoules and mother tincture.

DHU harvests hamamelis from its own cultivation, which like all its others is ecologically certified. We grow hamamelis in a predominantly sunny location in fresh, nutrient-rich soil. The sunny location is tolerated well if the soil and air contain plenty of moisture. In their natural habitat, the different species of hamamelis grow amongst taller shrubs, which explains why they can also tolerate partial to full shade. It is important to prevent waterlogging, however.

The constituents – including tannic acid, saponins, resins, flavonoids and essential oils – are found to be effective in inflammations of the skin and venous stasis, and support the treatment of internal and external bleeding. The established indications for hamamelis are varicose veins, haemorrhoids, cutaneous and mucosal bleeding.

In 1872, Dr Willmar Schwabe began developing a whole range of medicines in Leipzig using hamamelis extract, most famous of which is our Hametum® ointment.