Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!Witch hazel has always been a fascinating and mysterious herb to me. The name itself conjures up bygone years where witch-hunts and potions were made and devilish goings on in forest and villages in olde England. My mother used to use it, but I just can't remember what she used it for until my research gave the clues.

It is a simple herb essentially a flowering plant. There are two main varieties one in North America the other in oriental Japan and China. They grow as a deciduous shrub or sometimes as small trees growing up to 8 metres tall. The leaves are oval averaging around 7-8 cm in length and 5 cm wide with smooth or wavy margins. The official meaning for the witch hazel is 'together with fruit'. The simple reason being that the fruit, the flowers and next year's leaf buds appear on the branch all at the same time.

The fruit is a two-piece capsule around 1 cm long. It has a single 5 mm black seed in each of the two segments. The capsule explodes when mature in the autumn firing the seeds to fly up to 10 metres away. Another nickname for this herb from these natural actions is named 'Snapping Hazel'.

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!The actual name 'witch' comes from the Middle Ages in England and the word used called 'wiche'. So, after all these years believing it was named after witches, it is not! It comes from the word ‘wice’, which means 'bendable'. The word hazel comes from using the wood as rods, just as hazel twig wood is used in England.

Witch hazel are popular ornamental plants with rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to develop in the autumn season and continuing throughout the winter.

Under the Spell of Witch Hazel - Not!The bark and leaves give an extract, this is also called as witch hazel and is used medicinally. This extract is used in aftershave and cream to treating bruises and insect bites. Witch hazel is also the main ingredient and active element in many haemorrhoid medications. The seeds form the witch hazel capsules contain oil and are also edible.

It now springs to mind what my mother used it for, we as kids used to get bitten by insects in the summer months, it was used to treat these, I remember the smell that reminds me of summer and now I know why.


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