Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is one of the most useful of herbs to have in the household medicine cabinet. As a remedy for bruises, bumps, sprains, and as a dressing for abrasions, crushed fingers, scalds, and burns, it is very efficient. It is likewise the most effective topical herbal treatment for varicose veins.
Witch hazel is an excellent vulnerary; that is, it seals off slow leaks in blood vessels, and stimulates the drainage of lymphatic fluid from a bruised area. This is the reason why witch hazel is so effective in reducing the swelling from a blow or collision with a blunt instrument.
Witch hazel (or any vulnerary) is more effective the sooner it can be applied to the injured area. It will work very quickly if applied right away, stemming both internal and external bleeding, and will not need to be applied usually for more than a day for most minor injuries of this type.
Soak a cotton pad in witch hazel lotion or tincture and apply to the injured spot and hold it in place for a few minutes. For bad strains or sprains accompanied by bruising and swelling, it will be necessary to reapply this treatment twice per day until symptoms subside.
Witch hazel is number one on the list as a topical herbal treatment for the discomfort associated with varicose veins. Soak a cotton sheet in witch hazel lotion and wrap it around the part of the leg where the vein is causing discomfort. The leg should be in the horizontal position, not elevated or dropped; this will reduce the amount of pressure on the vein.
About half an hour of this is all that should be necessary. The powerful astringency of witch hazel will shrink the offending vein and relieve the aching and throbbing that can cause great discomfort for sufferers at the end of a long, hard day.
Witch hazel works for those who suffer from hemorrhoids for the same reason as varicose veins, as its powerful astringency shrinks bulging blood vessels, relieving pressure and associated pain. Apply witch hazel ointment daily in this case for relief.
Another household use for this herb, also attributable to its astringency, is the soothing and anti-inflammatory effect it has on eyes, when they are sore and irritated from windblown dust and grit. Place the lotion soaked cotton pads over the closed eyelids for approximately 15 minutes to find relief. This same method can even be used to tighten and tone the skin around the eyes and so reduce the appearance of wrinkles. This should only be done once a week, and again only for around 15 minutes.
Witch hazel is an herb that comes into European use via the Native Americans, who used it primarily in the form of a poultice soaked in a decoction of the bark. They applied this to swellings and tumors of a painful nature, as well as external inflammations. They also used the herb for internal hemorrhaging and heavy menstrual bleeding.
Witch hazel is so powerfully astringent that I do not advise its use internally.
Luke Hughes is a classical Western herbalist and horticulturist based in Sydney, Australia.